Driving While Intoxicated: Texas Penal Code §49.04 | The Texas DWI Law

Texas Criminal Law

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The Texas Driving While Intoxicated law (also known as DWI), makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated.

The basic elements of the DWI offense are 1) intoxication, 2) operation 3) motor vehicle and 4) public place. The state’s attorneys must prove each of those elements in order to obtain a DWI conviction. The most commonly contested element of the DWI offense is intoxication. Sometimes “operation” and “public place” issues come up too, but most often cases boil down to whether someone is intoxicated. Learn more about the definition of “Intoxicated” below.

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The Texas legislature codified this criminal offense in Texas Penal Code Section 49.04. The law was not updated in 2023. In fact, the DWI statute has not been amended since 2011. However, due to the sheer volume of DWI cases and boundary-pushing scientific protocols, DWI case law and practice evolves frequently. In addition, many of the laws related to DWI have changed numerous times – for instance, new “superfines” went into effect in 2019 related to drivers license privileges after DWI convictions.

An important note is that under Texas law, DUI and DWI are two separate offenses. DUI (“Driving Under the Influence”) only applies to people under 21.

The Penal Code classifies the Texas DWI law under Title 10 “Offenses Against Public Health, Safety, And Morals,” Chapter 49 “Intoxication and Alcoholic Beverage Offenses.” Learn more about the Texas offense of Driving While Intoxicated below.

What is the DWI law in Texas?

Texas law currently defines the offense of Driving While Intoxicated in Penal Code Section §49.04 as follows:[1]

(a) A person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.

A key part of this law is what it means to be “intoxicated.” Intoxicated means any of the following:[2]

  • a) not having the normal use of your mental faculties by reason of the introduction of any substance into your body OR
  • b) not having the normal use of your physical faculties by reason of the introduction of any substance into your body OR
  • c) having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) greater than a 0.08

It is important to note that these conditions have the “OR” conjunction in between them. What this means is that the state attorneys only have to prove one of them to win a conviction. This is one reason why DWI defense is challenging for criminal defense attorneys – we have to protect you against all three of these accusations at the same time.

In addition, note that the state does not have to prove that you were intoxicated with alcohol. The Texas Penal Code says that you can be intoxicated with alcohol or any other substance:

alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body.

This means that you can get convicted of a DWI or any other drunk driving offense even if the substance is a prescribed drug, an over the counter drug or a legal drug. Learn more about the definition of Intoxication

The “basic” DWI offense only requires the state attorneys to prove that you operated a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated However, other drunk driving offenses require additional elements. Those offenses include DWI with Child, Intoxication Assault, and Intoxication Manslaughter.

Can I get a DWI conviction off my record through an expunction, expungement or judicial clemency?

In Texas, if you were convicted of a DWI, you cannot get it off your criminal record. If your DWI charge was ultimately dismissed, then you may be able to get it off your record. Learn more about expunction eligibility

There is not unanimous agreement among Texas courts about whether you can get a DWI charge expunged if the DWI charged was dismissed when you are also convicted of something else that arose out of the charge (like an Obstruction plea). If you are in an arrest-based county, then you will not be able to get the record expunged. This is a developing area of case law, but unfortunately the trend is heading towards an arrest-based system of expunction.

Can they take my driver’s license away?

Generally, if you are arrested for a DWI, your license will be taken by the arresting officer. They will give you a sheet of paper called a DIC-25 that will act as a temporary license. This temporary license will only be good for 40 days unless you timely request and ALR Hearing. At the ALR hearing, a SOAH judge will determine whether your license will be returned to you or whether your license will be suspended. If you are not a Texas resident, your privilege to receive a driver’s license in Texas will be suspended, and they will notify your home state of that status. Typically, DMVs or OMVs in your home state will then suspend your driver’s license or operator’s license in that state. If you fail to request an ALR hearing, then your license will be suspended by default. Learn more about ALR Hearings, SOAH and License Suspensions

What is the legal limit of alcohol in your blood? How can I be charged with a DWI if I am under a .08?

Yes, you can be charged with DWI even though your blood alcohol concentration test result was under a 0.08. This is done through the alternative definition of intoxication found in the Texas DWI statute or through the state’s allegation that your BAC was higher at the time you operated a motor vehicle.

The amount of alcohol in your blood is called your blood alcohol content (“BAC”). The legal limit for your BAC is 0.08%. For many people, it only takes two drinks to be over the legal limit. Some people can be over the limit after only one drink. Your BAC depends on more than just how many drinks you had, however. Your BAC will be different depending on many factors including how long it took you to drink the alcohol, what kind of beverages you drank, how much you had to eat that day (and what kind of food it was), your personal physiology, and many other factors. DWI investigators use blood tests and breath tests to calculate your BAC at a specific point in time, but these tests must be administered properly in order to be accurate.

If your BAC was below the legal limit at the time the police tested you for alcohol, either through a blood test or breath test, and you came in under the legal limit, then you might still be prosecuted for DWI under the theory that at the time you were driving you were over the limit or that your mental or physical faculties were “not normal” even though you were under a 0.08% BAC. This happens more often than many people think. In this type of situation, the state is going to try to prove that your blood alcohol level was declining at the time you were driving. This, however, may very well not be true, and a DWI defense attorney should collect evidence to thoroughly investigate this theory.

What is the difference between DUI and DWI?

The critical difference between DUI and DWI is the age of the accused. DWI laws apply to everyone, while DUI laws apply only to people under 21.[3] You cannot be convicted of DUI if you are over 21 years old. Also, the DUI offense only requires the smallest trace of alcohol to be in your system. Even a 0.01% BAC will subject you to being convicted for DUI. The Texas DUI law is found in the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, Title 4 Sec 106.041.

What is the definition of “motor vehicle” under the Texas DWI law?

Not only do the state’s attorneys have to prove you were intoxicated, they also have to prove you were intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle. Motor vehicles are defined as “a device in, on, or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a highway, except a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.”[4]

I refused the breathalyzer test. What happens to me now?

If you refused the breath test, your license will be subject to suspension, pending the results of an ALR Hearing if you timely and successfully request a hearing – important time deadlines apply. If you fail to request the hearing properly, or you lose the hearing, your license will be suspended for 180 days to up to two years, depending on the circumstances. Learn more about ALR Hearings and how they affect your license and your DWI Defense strategy

I passed the field sobriety tests, why did I get arrested?

We often get calls from people who say they “passed the tests.” However, there is no way to really “pass” the tests – that’s because they’re not tests in the same sense that people normally think of tests. The field sobriety tests are just evidence-gathering mechanisms for the police. The police note “clues” based on their observations when you are performing the SFSTs, but even if you do not exhibit any clues, you could still be arrested and you could still be intoxicated. Similarly, you coudl exhibit plenty of clues and be not intoxicated. The tests are merely based on statistical relations, and even if performed correctly, the statistical association with intoxication is not even close to 100%.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test requires the officer to look at the movement in your eyes, and you can’t see what he sees. So at the very least, you will have no way to tell if you passed this test. The police also do not tell you what clues they are looking for when you take the other tests, and they may also lie to you about their thoughts on whether you passed. So if they tell you that you passed and still arrested you, they were likely just lying to you.

In addition, the police might think you failed when you really didn’t. This happens when they conduct the test incorrectly – which happens all the time. Standardized tests are only valid when administered in the prescribed, standardized method. Imagine what it would be like if schools administered the same test for all their students, but some were administed in quiet classrooms, while others were administered with flashing bright lights in the room. You would naturally expect that the group of students in the quiet classroom would do better than the students in the classroom with the flashing bright lights.

What is the statute of limitation for DWI in Texas?

Misdemeanor level DWI charges have a two-year limitations period.[5] Felony level offenses have a three-year limitations period.[6]

What is the penalty for a Texas DWI offense?

Standard DWI first offenses are classified as Class B misdemeanors, carrying a maximum of one year and jail and a minimum 72-hour jail sentence.[7] The state can also seek numerous enhancements for DWI convictions, including an open alcohol container enhancement, which results in a minimum sentence of six days in jail,[8] and a Class A misdemeanor enhacement for DWIs when your BAC is greater than 0.15.[9] The state can also seek enhacements for repeat DWI offenses.[10] Third and subsequent DWI convictions are eligible for prison sentences. However, all DWI sentences are generally eligible to be probated, except for repeat offenses, which require minimum days in custody as a condition of probation.[11]

If you are placed on probation, other possibilities for sentencing include a SCRAM ankle monitor, a Soberlink device and electronic home monitoring. You will face to pay probation fees to the county, and you will have to attend classes like a DWI education course, a Victim Impact Panel by MADD. There will likely be community service involved, you will have to pay court costs and other fines and penalties, and you may be required to have an interlock device (also known as a deep lung device) installed on your car that will prevent your car from starting unless you blow into it. Learn more about typical DWI Probation Conditions

In addition, there are significant real-world penalties that are not necessarily considered “criminal” or outlined in the state law. For instance, your driver’s license may be suspended and you will have to pay a reinstatement fee. If you are on probation, you will not be allowed to any drink alcohol, you will have a probation officer that will be able to restrict your travel, you may be required to maintain an ignition interlock device (requiring you to blow into it before you start your car) and other monitoring devices like an ankle bracelet, you will have to attend probation appointments causing you to miss work and family events. In addition to the embarrassment, hassle and expense, there are numerous other penalties.

Learn more about the consequences of DWI convictions

New Intoxicated Operation of Motor Vehicle Offense Fines

In 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature implemented additional fines for all offenses “relating to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.”[12]These new fines range from $3,000 to $6,000, and are as follows:[13]

  • (1) $3,000 for the first conviction within a 36-month period;
  • (2) $4,500 for a second or subsequent conviction within a 36-month period; and
  • (3) $6,000 for a first or subsequent conviction if it is shown on the trial of the offense that an analysis of a specimen of the person’s blood, breath, or urine showed an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more at the time the analysis was performed.

In addition to the base DWI offense, the state can charge you with related driving while intoxicated charges such as DWI with Child Passenger, a state jail felony that requires the state’s attorneys to prove that at the time you committed DWI you had a child passenger younger than 15 years old, or Intoxication Assault, or Intoxication Manslaughter.

Penalties for DWI 2nd convictions

If you are convicted of DWI 2nd, you will be subject to the penalty enhancements in Section 49.09 of the Texas Penal Code. These include a minimum term of confinement of 30 days[14] (although all but 72 hours of this may be probated)[15] and mandatory interlock installation on your vehicle.[16] In addition, the offense is considered a Class A Misdemeanor.[17]

In addition to the offense-specific fine, the new 2019 fines will apply to any DWI 2nd, so you will have to pay an additional fine of either $3,000, $4,500 or $6,000.

Penalties for DWI 3rd or subsequent convictions

If the state can show that you have had two prior DWI charges any time in the past (and from anywhere in the country), the state attorneys may prosecute you for Felony DWI,[18] with mandatory jail time and very long probation sentences. You can also be convicted with Felony DWI if you had one previous Intoxication Manslaughter conviction.[19] These Felony DWI convictions are third degree felonies.[20]

In addition to the offense-specific fine, the new 2019 fines will apply to and DWI 3rd or more conviction, so you will have to pay an additional fine of either $3,000, $4,500 or $6,000.

Can you get probation for DWI in Texas?

Sentences for DWI convictions are generally able to be probated, but repeat DWI offenses may carry mandatory days as a condition of probation.[21]

The Code of Criminal Procedure allows deferred adjudication pleas for DWI unless the defendant held a commercial driver’s license or a commercial learner’s permit, or the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration was over 0.15, or the defendant had a prior DWI or BWI.[22]

What level of crime is DWI in Texas?

The Penal Code classifies DWI as a Class B misdemeanor, unless the state alleges that your BAC met or exceeded 0.15, in which case the code classifies the offense as a Class A misdemeanor. Additionally, the state may seek a repeat DWI enhancement to a Class A misdemeanor for DWI 2nd convictions, and to the felony level for third or subsequent DWI convictions.

Learn more about the penalty range for this offense in the section above.


^1. Texas Penal Code §49.04. This law is current as of 2024.^2. Texas Penal Code §49.01(2) – “‘Intoxicated’ means: (A) not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or (B) having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.”^3. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, Title 4 §106.01^4. Texas Penal Code 32.34(a), cross-referenced from Texas Penal Code §49.01(3).^5. Code of Criminal Procedure 12.02(a)^6. See Code of Criminal Procedure 12.01(9)^7. Texas Penal Code §49.04(b)^8. Texas Penal Code §49.04(c)^9. Texas Penal Code §49.04(d)^10. Texas Penal Code §49.09^11. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 42A.401^12 Sec. 709.001(a), Transportation Code, as implemented by HB 2048, 86th Texas Legislature, effective September 1, 2019 –

(a) In this section, “offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated” has the meaning assigned by Texas Penal Code §49.09.

Texas Penal Code Section 49.09(c) defines “offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated” as:

(A) an offense under Section 49.04 (DWI) or 49.045 (DWI with Child);

(B) an offense under Section 49.07 (Intoxication Assault) or 49.08 (Intoxication Manslaughter), if the vehicle operated was a motor vehicle;(C) an offense under Article 6701l-1, Revised Statutes, as that law existed before September 1, 1994;

(D) an offense under Article 6701l-2, Revised Statutes, as that law existed before January 1, 1984;

(E) an offense under Section 19.05(a)(2), as that law existed before September 1, 1994, if the vehicle operated was a motor vehicle; or

(F) an offense under the laws of another state that prohibit the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

^13. Sec. 709.001(a), Transportation Code, as implemented by HB 2048, 86th Texas Legislature, effective September 1, 2019 –

(b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), in addition to the fine prescribed for the specific offense, a person who has been finally convicted of an offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated shall pay a fine of:

(1) $3,000 for the first conviction within a 36-month period;

(2) $4,500 for a second or subsequent conviction within a 36-month period; and

(3) $6,000 for a first or subsequent conviction if it is shown on the trial of the offense that an analysis of a specimen of the person’s blood, breath, or urine showed an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more at the time the analysis was performed.

^14. Texas Penal Code §49.09(a)^15. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 42.12 Section 13(a)(1)^16. Texas Penal Code §49.09(h)^17. Texas Penal Code §49.09(a)^18. Texas Penal Code §49.09^19. Texas Penal Code §49.09(b)(1)^20. Texas Penal Code §49.09(b)^21. See Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 42A.401^22. Art. 42A.102(b)(1)(B)&(C), Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

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