How serious is a first-time DWI arrest?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

DWI is one of the most commonly charged crimes in Texas and the Houston area. Most DWIs in the Houston area are first-time DWIs filed as either Class “B” or Class “C” misdemeanors. If you have never been arrested before, being arrested for DWI can be a highly stressful and exhausting experience. In many cases, you can spend over 24 hours in jail until you bond out and then you have to worry about the legal, personal and professional consequences of a DWI. One common question is just how serious a first-time DWI arrest is. This article talks about the potential punishment and secondary consequences of a DWI arrest. 

When thinking about the seriousness of a first-time DWI, it is important to understand the potential direct legal consequences. Most first-time DWIs are filed as Class “B” misdemeanors punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2000 fine. If you blow or give blood, and the result comes back at .15 or more, then the DWI could be upgraded to a Class “A” misdemeanor, which doubles the potential punishment to a year in jail and a $4000 fine. A first-time DWI can also be filed as a felony if there is an accident involving serious injury or death, or if it is alleged that you had a child in the car (being charged with a felony DWI is substantially more serious than a first-time misdemeanor DWI, and this article will discuss the seriousness of a first-time misdemeanor DWI).

Although jail time is always a theoretical possibility, the truth is that almost no first-time DWI will result in jail time (you should be suspicious of any criminal defense attorneys who attempt to scare you with that possibility). Although it’s good to understand the sentencing range you are facing, it can be more helpful to understand the realistic worst-case scenario of a first-time DWI. In my opinion, the realistic worst-case scenario of a first-time DWI is ending up on probation and having a permanent conviction on your record for DWI (in addition to having your driver’s license suspended, which is discussed below). 

A first-time DWI can be serious since it can put your criminal history in jeopardy. If you have never been arrested before, it may be difficult to understand the impact a DWI conviction could have. A DWI conviction can make it more challenging to find work (particularly in certain fields like trucking or law enforcement), obtain a professional license, rent an apartment and can drastically increase the price of car insurance. Additionally, if you are convicted of a first-time DWI, that means that you will face steeper consequences if you are ever arrested again. 

The other major potential consequence of a first-time DWI is a driver’s license suspension. In Texas, when you are arrested for DWI, it is very likely that you will also have a case pending against your driver’s license. This case is known as an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) case. If you gave a sample but had a result higher than a .08 (a so-called “failure”), or refused to give a sample, then you will be facing a suspension of 90 or 180 days, respectively. Ceja Law Firm wins most of its ALR cases for first-time DWIs in the Houston area, so it is very likely that your license will never be suspended. But even if it is suspended, it is possible to quickly obtain an occupational driver’s license. 

So how serious is a first-time DWI? This is a relative question that depends in large part on what you do for a living and where you are in life. For example, if you are a CDL driver, you could get your commercial driver’s license suspended if you are convicted or have your license suspended as a result of an ALR hearing, which would be disastrous. On the opposite extreme, a wealthy retired person might not care about the impact a DWI would have on his record. The vast majority of people fall between these two extremes and would suffer some negative consequences, but would not have their lives seriously derailed.

Regardless of your situation, the goal should always be to avoid the consequences of a conviction by getting the case dismissed or going to trial and securing a verdict of “not guilty.” Keep in mind that one way or the other, you will get through a first-time DWI arrest and put it behind you. But you owe it to yourself and your future to do whatever you can to obtain the best possible result. 

Although most first-time DWIs are misdemeanors, they are still some of the most technically complex cases that criminal defense attorneys handle. DWIs involve specialized police procedure (like the police balance tests known as “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests”), the science of breath and blood testing, and the law of search and seizure, which controls traffic stops and police interrogations. 

Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has successfully handled hundreds of DWI cases throughout the Greater Houston Area. He is certified to administer police balance tests and has undergone hundreds of hours of training relating to the science of breath and blood testing. If you are charged with DWI in the Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today to discuss your case.

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.
Posted in DWI