DUI or DWI? In Texas, there is a difference.

As a criminal defense attorney, I obviously come in contact with people who have been charged with Driving While Intoxicated, otherwise referred to as “DWI.” That, in and of itself, is not terribly interesting. What is interesting though, is the high number of these individuals who refer to the offense as DUI. Certainly, the distinction can be confusing for at least two reasons:

1.) what is termed a DWI in Texas, is, in fact, called a DUI in many other states; and
2.) the offense of DUI does indeed exist in Texas, but it is an entirely different charge called Driving Under the Influence.

DWI or DUI?

In Texas, under Section 49.04 of the Penal Code, any person commits the offense of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) if the person is intoxicated while operating a vehicle in a public place. As most people know, Intoxication is defined as either having a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .08, or higher; or having lost the normal use of one’s physical OR mental faculties due to the introduction of alcohol or drugs (including lawfully prescribed medicines).

However, under Section 106.041 of the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Code, DUI is committed when a minor operates a motor vehicle in a public place, or a watercraft, while having any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor’s system.

Stated simply, a DUI is an offense reserved only for minors – people under 21 years of age – who are believed to have consumed any detectable amount of alcohol. In other words, if a police officer smells alcohol on the breath of a minor while driving, the minor is subject to being arrested for DUI.

So obviously, only people under 21 years of age can be charged with DUI, and those over 21 cannot. Importantly though, minors can be charged with either offense. A minor – just like someone over 21 – may still be arrested for DWI if it is alleged that not only is there some alcohol in their system, but they are, in fact, intoxicated (as defined above).

DUI Punishment

Punishment for a DUI (first offense) includes:

  • a fine up to $500.00;
  • 20 to 40 hours of community service;
  • and a driver license suspension for 60 – 180 days.

Additionally, attendance in an Alcohol Awareness Course is required for the minor and may be required for the parent.

If you, or a loved one, are ever charged with DUI or DWI, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.

*Edward “Eddie” Cawlfield is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas. Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice. For specific legal advice about any case please schedule a free consultation at 972-369-0577.