DWI traffic stop

How serious is a first-time DWI arrest in 2023?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

One of the worst parts of a first-time DWI arrest is anxiety over the possible consequences to your freedom, future and career. Although a first-time DWI is typically a misdemeanor, the consequences to your record and job prospects can be long-lasting, or even permanent, depending on the facts of your case or what type of work you do. Fortunately, with the help of an experienced DWI attorney, it is possible to minimize or completely avoid the consequences of a first-time DWI arrest.

When people talk about “how serious” a DWI arrest, they may be referring to several things. The most obvious is the potential criminal penalties of a DWI. In Texas, a first-time DWI is punished as a Class “B” misdemeanor publishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2000 fine (probation is almost always offered to a person charged with a first-time DWI in the Houston area). In some instances, a first-time DWI can be charged as a more serious offense. The most common example is if the defendant’s breath or blood result is above a .15. In those cases, a first-time DWI will be filed as a Class “A” misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail or a $4000 fine. If there are certain aggravating factors – like an accident resulting in serious injury or death, or if you have a child in the car – a first-time DWI can be filed as a felony with substantially more severe potential consequences. For purposes of this post, we will assume that a first-time DWI is charged as a Class “A” or Class “B” misdemeanor. 

The other direct consequence of a first-time DWI may be a driver’s license suspension through a separate administrative hearing known as an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) case. In Texas, if you have been arrested for DWI, a police officer will attempt to obtain a breath or blood result from you. If you refuse, you will face a license suspension of 180 days. If you agree, but your result is higher than .08, you will face a 90-day suspension. In either event, it is a good idea for your DWI attorney to request a hearing within 15 days from your arrest (which is the deadline for requesting a hearing). Unless you are a CDL holder (in which case an ALR suspension would result in a year long suspension of your CDL privileges), an ALR suspension will normally not be hugely impactful as it is possible to obtain an occupational driver’s license to use during your suspension period.

Other than the criminal penalties, the major concern most people have when they are arrested for DWI is the impact on their career. Of course, the impact of a DWI on your career depends on what type of work you do or hope to do. For a holder of a commercial driver’s license, or a pilot, a DWI could be career-ending. However, for a self-employed person, or a person in a field like the hospitality industry or construction, a first-time DWI conviction may not have any effect at all. In some fields, like medicine, if you are arrested or convicted for DWI, you may have an affirmative obligation to report a conviction or arrest to a licensing agency. 

If you hold a professional license and are concerned about the potential consequences of a DWI, it is very important that you understand whether you are under an affirmative obligation to report an arrest or conviction (for example, if your case is not resolved yet, and you are only obligated to report a conviction, your duty to report may not begin unless you are convicted). An experienced DWI attorney may be able to offer some guidance with respect to the impact of a DWI arrest on a job or professional license, although it can also be a good idea to consult with an attorney who specializes in professional licensing. 

If you are not a United States Citizen and have been arrested for a first-time DWI (or any other criminal charge), it is highly advisable that you speak with an immigration attorney regarding the potential consequences a criminal case could have on your immigration status. At Ceja Law Firm, we believe that the best criminal attorneys focus their practice on criminal law, and do not advise our clients with respect to their immigration case. However, we regularly work with the best immigration attorneys in Houston to ensure that any immigration consequences to our clients’ cases as a result of a DWI (or any criminal offense) are understood and that everything possible is done to minimize or avoid negative consequences. 

Fortunately, many other secondary consequences of a criminal conviction are not a concern for a first-time misdemeanor DWI. For example, a first-time misdemeanor DWI conviction will not affect your right to own a gun (although you may be prohibited from possessing a firearm if you end up serving probation). Additionally, if you are a student, a first time DWI will not make you ineligible for most forms of student aid or bar you from admission from the school of your choice. 

Finally, the other major consequence for most people is the financial toll of a DWI arrest. Unfortunately, there is no question that a DWI can be a huge drain on your finances. Bonding out of jail, getting a car from a tow yard, time missed from work, and hiring an attorney can be hugely expensive. It is also possible that you will have to rent an interlock device or pay court fees while you are on bond. Finally, if you are convicted of DWI, you could be fined by the judge and even be subject to a “superfine” that is imposed in Texas of several thousand dollars. Although the immediate financial impact of a DWI can be great, it is important to consider the potential future cost a DWI conviction could have on your future due to damage to your career. That is why it is important to hire the best DWI attorney you can find. 

Indeed, the best way to avoid these consequences is to hire a DWI attorney with the experience to maximize your chances of getting your case dismissed. It is important to remember that if your case is dismissed or you are acquitted (found “not guilty) at trial, then almost all of these potentially negative consequences of a DWI may be avoided (with the exception of a possible ALR suspension and some of the financial consequences). If you have been arrested for DWI anywhere in the Greater Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today. 

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