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If you have been charged with a DUI or DWI, you may be wondering which type of charge is worse in Texas. Whether a DWI or DUI is worse depends on the state in which you live. Every state has unique laws related to drunk driving. Texas recognizes DWIs and DUIs as separate criminal offenses with unique elements. While it is often easier for prosecutors to prove DUI charges, the penalties for DWI charges are more severe.

Only Minors Can be Charged With DUIs in Texas

In Texas, only minors can be charged with DUIs when they have any amount of alcohol in their system. Texas has a zero-tolerance policy regarding minors consuming alcohol and operating a motor vehicle. When a driver is under the age of 21, it is illegal for them to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. As a result, even when a minor has a very low blood alcohol concentration (BAC), they can still be convicted of a DUI.  

For example, a minor who drank one can of beer and drove three hours later could still be charged with a DUI in Texas for trace amounts of alcohol in their system. In this regard, it is worse to be charged with a DUI as a minor in Texas. Law enforcement only needs to prove that you have any detectable amount of alcohol in your system. Prosecutors can use test results from blood draws or breathalyzer tests to prove that a minor has committed a DUI. Minors can still face DWI charges if their blood or breath alcohol concentration is at .08% or greater while driving.

DWI Charges are Worse Than DUI Charges in Texas

Even though it can be easier to prove a DUI charge in Texas, the penalties for DWI charges are more serious. While you should not take either a DUI or DWI charge lightly, those convicted of DUI charges face heavier jail sentences and fines. Under Texas law, A first-time DWI offender faces a fine of up to $2,000, a loss of driver’s license for up to a year, and an annual fee of $1,000 to $2,000 for three years to keep that license. First-time DWI offenders also faced a jail sentence between three and 180 days. Drivers can request a reinstatement of their drivers’ licenses.

On the contrary, a minor who is convicted of a DUI faces a fine of up to $500, 20 to 40 hours of community service, a 60-day suspension of their driver’s license, and participation in a mandatory alcohol awareness class. As you can see, the penalties for a first-time DUI are less severe than those for a first-time DWI charge. However, the penalties increase for DWI and DUI when a defendant is convicted multiple times.

Understanding DWI Charges

Now that we have established that the penalties for DWI charges are more severe than DUI charges, we will analyze the elements of each of these crimes. Prosecutors must prove each element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the defendant. Under Texas law, a DUI occurs when A drivers operating a motor vehicle in a public  place while lacking normal physical or mental faculties as a result of:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Consumption of a controlled substance, or 
  • By having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher

When a defendant is over the age of 21 and falls within one of these categories, he or she will be charged with a DWI. In Texas, a DWI is considered a Class B misdemeanor. Prosecutors can increase the charges to a class A misdemeanor when the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration is over .15%. If your DWI charge involves some type of controlled substance other than alcohol, prosecutors could include additional drug charges.

Texas Imposes a Zero-Tolerance Policy on Drinking and Driving for Minors

Understanding the difference between DUI and DWI charges in Texas can be confusing.  DUI charges are limited to minors who have consumed any amount of drugs or alcohol while driving a motor vehicle. It is always illegal for teenagers to drink in Texas, but they will not be charged with a DUI unless they are operating a motor vehicle. Texas statutory law and case law defines “motor vehicle” broadly, and teenagers can be charged with a DUI for operating a recreational vehicle in a public place while intoxicated.

In our many years of representing defendants in DUI charges, we have had many defendants struggle to accept that any amount of alcohol in their system warrants a DUI conviction. As long as law enforcement officers can prove that there is “any detectable amount of alcohol” in the minor’s system, the minor can be found guilty of a crime.  

Even if a minor had only one swig of alcohol, and a police officer smells the alcohol on his or her breath, the minor could still face DUI charges. Texas has a zero-tolerance policy regarding minors driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and DUI charges are classified as Class C misdemeanors.  

First-time DWI offenders face a license suspension between 90 days in one year. If the minor tests positive to a breath, blood, or urine test, their license will be automatically suspended, whether or not they are convicted in court. One difference between DWI and DUI charges involves expungement. It is often easier for minors convicted of a DUI to request the court to expunge their criminal record later on in life.

Contact a Texas DUI/DWI Lawyer Today

Even though DWI charges have more severe penalties than DUI charges, both should be taken seriously. Being convicted of a DUI or DWI in Texas will lead to a criminal record, and the court could impose serious penalties. The best thing you can do if you have been charged with DWI or DUI in Texas is to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Contact Kenneth N. Cutrer, Attorney at Law, today to schedule your initial consultation. 

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