Like many other states, Texas has a “zero tolerance” law for those who drink and drive while under the legal drinking age. Since it is illegal to drink alcohol under the age of 21, underage drivers can get a ticket after just one drink.
The law allows police officers to ticket underage drivers who have “any detectable amount of alcohol” in their system. This is a driving under the influence of alcohol charge, often called DUI. If certain scenarios apply, however, Texas DWI laws for drivers under 21 years old can come into play.
Texas DUI Charges and Possible Penalties
While many people think of a DUI as a typical drunk driving charge, things are somewhat different in Texas. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, drunk drivers over age 21 and over the legal limit face charges of driving while intoxicated, or DWI. DUI is a charge exclusively for underage drinking and driving.
DUI is generally a Class C misdemeanor and brings with it significantly reduced penalties when compared to DWI. If the police stop you and believe you are under the influence of alcohol, they can require you to submit to a breath or blood test to determine the concentration of alcohol in your blood. If this test confirms there is any detectable amount, you could face penalties that include:
- Up to a $500 fine;
- A 60-day driver license suspension;
- Up to 40 hours of community service; and
- Mandatory enrollment and attendance in alcohol-awareness classes.
If you get a second DUI before turning 21 years old, these penalties will increase. For example, while you will get a 60-day driver license suspension for a first offense, this doubles to 120 days for the second offense and adds on 60 more days to reach 180 days for the third offense.
Underage Drivers May Also Face DWI Charges in Some Cases
Drivers under 21 years old may face DWI charges in addition to or instead of DUI charges in some cases. This depends heavily on the circumstances of the stop and arrest, the blood alcohol concentration of the driver, and the discretion of the arresting officer.
In Texas, you commit a DWI by:
- Driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher; or
- If an officer determines you lack “the normal use of mental or physical faculties” because of alcohol or drugs
If the officer who pulls you over or responds to an accident you caused believes you fit this criterion, you could face Texas DWI laws for drivers under 21 years old.
The penalties for a DWI are much more severe than for a DUI. A first offense is generally a Class B misdemeanor, and you could face:
- A fine of up to $2,000;
- A jail sentence of 72 hours to 180 days, although first-time offenders may receive a probated sentence;
- A driver license suspension from 90 days to 1 year.
You Do Not Have to Fight a Texas DUI or Underage DWI Charge on Your Own
While a DUI has fewer severe penalties than a DWI, you do not have to accept them if you do not believe you were guilty. Talking about the most favorable outcome possible in your case with a Texas drunk driving lawyer before you enter a plea is a good idea. We recommend reaching out to us as soon as possible after your stop to ensure we can build the strongest defense possible in your case.
Attorney Randy Isenberg and his team from the Law Offices of Randall B. Isenberg can go to work on your case today, no matter if you face DUI or DWI charges. We may be able to get them to drop the DWI or reduce it to reckless driving or another lesser charge with fewer penalties. We can also build a strong argument on your behalf in your DUI case based on the circumstances of your arrest so that a DWI does not derail your life.
Talk to a Texas DUI and DWI Attorney About Your Case
Drunk driving and criminal defense lawyer Randy Isenberg has taken on thousands of DUI and DWI cases over the course of his 30-year career. He knows what it takes to win cases because he is a former prosecutor and state district judge. Randy’s experience is your advantage when it comes to facing a Texas drunk driving charge. Call 214-696-9253 today to learn more.