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Having a couple of drinks and driving home may not seem like a big deal. But if you are pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence, your first thought might be, “Could I go to jail?” If this is the only time you have ever been charged with DWI, you might be able to avoid jail, although there are other penalties you will still have to deal with.
Jail Time for DUI/DWI in Texas
Texas law states a first-time DUI conviction is a Class B misdemeanor. A misdemeanor generally refers to any criminal offense where the penalty is less than one year in county jail. For a misdemeanor DUI, the law prescribes a minimum jail term of 72 hours (three days). This minimum increases to six days if police find “an open container of alcohol” in the defendant's “immediate possession” at the time of arrest. And if there is a child under the age of 15 in the car at the time, the DUI charge is bumped up to a “state jail felony.”
But in many cases, a judge will not actually require a defendant to report to jail for a misdemeanor first offense. The judge has the option of releasing the defendant on probation for a period of one or two years. This is also known as “community supervision.” While the defendant avoids jail, he or she will have to follow any conditions imposed by the judge, which may include abstaining from all alcohol consumption, installing an “ignition interlock” device in their vehicle, performing a number of community service hours, and even paying a “monthly supervisory fee” to the court. If a defendant on probation fails to follow any of these conditions, the judge retains the right to order jail time for the original DUI conviction.
Should Jail Always Be Required?
Many anti-drunk driving activists believe probation should not be an option even for a first offense. Given that around 10,000 people die in alcohol-related accidents each year, there is an argument to be made that jail time, even in DWI cases where nobody was injured, serves as a powerful deterrent, not only to the drunk driver but others who would consider following his or her example. Indeed, many first-time offenders go on to commit second, third, and even more DWI offenses before they are ultimately jailed.
On the other hand, a mandatory jail policy might backfire, as it would clog the prison system with potentially thousands of non-violent offenders. Many first-time DWI defendants would also be prompted to fight their case in court, rather than enter into a plea bargain for probation, if they knew jail time was required. This would place a significant strain on limited judicial and police resources.
Regardless of where you stand on this debate, if you find yourself charged with drunk driving, it is important you receive impartial legal advice from an experienced Austin DWI lawyer.