Getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking is never a good idea. In Texas, like other states, it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level greater than .08 percent or after having lost the “normal use” of your mental or physical faculties. The punishment for a DWI can vary depending on the facts and the criminal history of the defendant. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is serious by itself, but if there is a child in the vehicle with an intoxicated driver, the punishment increases considerably from a first time DWI. If you are charged with DWI, and there was a young passenger in your car, you need the assistance of Ceja Law Firm, PLLC. Former prosecutor and founding member of Ceja Law Firm, PLLC, attorney Jose Ceja has successfully defended countless DWI with child passenger cases.
DWI is the operation of a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated. Intoxicated means one of two things:
- Lacking mental or physical faculties because of the use of alcohol, controlled substances, or other drugs; or
- Having a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more.
The first definition, lacking mental or physical faculties, is hard to prove because it is subjective and may vary by the observer. For example, lack of balance or slurred speech may be caused by a physical condition rather than intoxication. For this reason, whenever possible, police will try and obtain evidence of a driver’s blood-alcohol level. Blood or breath test results are objective and quantifiable facts used to establish whether someone is intoxicated.
First time DWI is a Class B Misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000.
DWI with a Child Passenger
DWI with a child passenger involves driving while intoxicated when a passenger who is under the age of 15 is also in the vehicle. Normally a first-time DWI is a Class “B” misdemeanor but if there is a child in the car, the offense is elevated to a State Jail Felony. Punishment for state jail felonies is between 180 days and two years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Additional Consequences of a DWI with a Child Passenger
Loss of Driving Privileges
In addition to jail time and fines, a person convicted of a DWI may face suspension of driving privileges or may be required to use an ignition interlock as a condition of driving.
Required Drug or Alcohol Treatment
Many courts see the criminal justice system as serving a rehabilitative function and part of a punishment for DWI may involve court-ordered participation in an alcohol or substance abuse treatment program.
Impact of a Felony Conviction
Loss of Right to Possess A Firearm
Texas statute allows all residents to obtain a license to carry a handgun. However, a resident may become ineligible to carry a handgun if he or she is convicted of a felony.
Ineligibility for Certain Jobs
Several employment opportunities in the State of Texas require an applicant to have a clean background and a felony conviction may be disqualifying. Many jobs that require dealing with the public such as police officers, firefighters, and employment in the medical field, working with children require background checks for prior felony convictions. Other employment opportunities that involve state and professional licenses also require an employee to have a clean criminal record. Many private employers also refuse to hire convicted felons.
Possible Immigration Consequences
If you are not a citizen and are convicted of any criminal offense, there could be immigration consequences. In general, a felony offense, like DWI with a Child Passenger, carry greater consequences. In addition to hiring a DWI attorney, you will want to consult with an immigration attorney who can advise you as to the immigration consequences of your case.
Possible Additional Charges
In addition to being charged with DWI with a child passenger, a driver could also be charged with endangering a child. Under Texas Penal Code 22.41 it is a State Jail Felony to place a child 15 years of age or younger in “imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment.” In some situations where a prosecutor cannot prove that a driver was intoxicated, they might proceed with this charge, or even proceed with this charge alongside a DWI.
Defenses to DWI
Properly defending a DWI requires an attorney to analyze and challenge every part of the investigation including the traffic stop, detention, the handling of the investigation at the scene, the administration of field sobriety tests, the validity of a blood warrant, the reading of rights, the reliability of a breath or blood test, and the officer’s conclusion that a person was intoxicated.
Making the Stop
To pull a vehicle over, a law enforcement officer must have a good reason, also known as reasonable suspicion. In most cases, a police officer will have observed the driver doing something improper while driving, such as weaving in the lane, failing to signal, or failing to stop at a stop sign or traffic light. Other times the vehicle itself gives the police officer a reason to pull a driver over, for instance, if there is a burned-out taillight or the registration sticker has expired. Whatever the reason, the police must have a justifiable reason for pulling you over. An invalid traffic stop is one of the most common reasons a DWI might be dismissed and it is important that a criminal defense attorney challenge the stop.
Pre-Arrest Screening and Person to Person Contact
Once a driver is pulled over, a law enforcement officer must also have reasonable suspicion to suspect the driver is under the influence of alcohol to detain the driver beyond a normal traffic stop to investigate further. Many law enforcement officers cite a driver’s behavior such as lack of coordination or slurred speech as a reason to prolong a traffic stop to administer field sobriety tests and conduct a DWI investigation. Police officers receive training to look for signs and symptoms of alcohol consumption. In any case, the officer must follow established procedures and failure to do so could result in charges being dismissed.
Breath or Blood Test
In Texas, the law requires all licensed drivers to submit to testing to determine blood-alcohol concentration upon request by a law enforcement officer who has probable cause to believe a driver is driving under the influence of alcohol. You may decline a breathalyzer or blood test, but doing so may lead to a suspension of your driving privileges. In counties like Harris County, the police will generally seek to obtain a warrant to obtain a driver’s blood in the event that they refuse a breath test.
Contact a Houston DWI with Child Passenger Attorney
The consequences of a conviction for DWI with a child passenger could lead to suspension of a driver’s license, jail time, hefty fines, and potentially loss of parental rights. Ceja Law Firm, PLLC understands each client depends on legal representation to minimize these consequences and protect his or her rights. Attorney Jose Ceja understands the impact of a DWI conviction and will work tirelessly to protect your rights. If you are arrested for DWI with a minor, contact Ceja Law Firm, PLLC today.