A few weeks ago, we discussed the criminal consequences of a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge in Texas. This article covers some of the civil (i.e. non-criminal) consequences that you might face as a result of a DWI charge.

License suspension

The first non-criminal consequence is the suspension of your driver’s license. Upon arrest, the arresting officer will give you a Notice of Suspension, stating that your license will be suspended in 40 days unless you request a hearing, known as an administrative license revocation (“ALR”) hearing, within 15 days of your receipt of the notice. These hearings are conducted at a nearby branch of the State Office of Administrative Hearings. The notice also acts as your temporary driving permit; however, the temporary driving permit is not effective for 24 hours if you were driving a commercial vehicle at the time of arrest. Requesting a hearing is extremely important for two reasons. First, it affords you the opportunity to gain valuable information that you can use in your defense of the criminal case. Second, requesting a hearing is the only way that you may contest your suspension, and if you miss your deadline, your license may be suspended when it could have been avoided. When you do request a hearing, your driving privilege will not be suspended until the ALR hearing has been conducted.

At the ALR hearing, the Department of Public Safety must prove that the officer was justified in stopping you and that you either refused to give a breath or blood sample, or that you failed the breath or blood test. If the administrative law judge finds that you refused to give a sample or failed the test, the judge will suspend your license as follows:

  1. Adults (ordinary driver’s license)
    1. Refused to give sample
      1. First time: 180 days
      2. Subsequent time: 2 years
    2. Failed test
      1. First time: 90 days
      2. Subsequent time: 1 year
  2. Adults (commercial driver’s license)
    1. Refused to give sample:
      1. First time: 1 year
      2. Subsequent time: life
    2. Test results of 0.08 or more in non-commercial vehicle
      1. First time: 1 year
      2. Subsequent time: life
    3. Test results of 0.04 or more, or presence of controlled substance or drug, in commercial vehicle:
      1. First time: 1 year
      2. Subsequent time: life
    4. Test results of 0.04 or more, or presence of controlled substance or drug, in commercial vehicle carrying hazardous chemicals:
      1. First time: 3 years
      2. Second time: life
  3. Minors (under 21)
    1. Refused to give sample
      1. First time: 180 days
      2. Subsequent time: 2 years
    2. Any detectable amount of alcohol (whether by breath, blood, or other means)
      1. First time: 60 days
      2. Second time: 120 days
      3. Third or subsequent time: 180 days

Occupational license

If your license is suspended, you can petition the court for an occupational license. Although the term “occupational” is used, it does not necessarily mean that it is limited to commuting to and from work or only for people who use their vehicle for work. Perhaps a more accurate description would be an “essential need license” because this type of license may be granted in cases where the person can show the need to use a vehicle for other essential daily activities.

Requesting an occupational license involves filing a petition and setting it for a hearing. At the hearing, you will need to prove to the judge that you have an essential need for a license. In most cases, needing a vehicle to get to and from work or school, or for essential household duties is sufficient. However, the license will generally only be valid during certain hours of the day, and only up to 12 hours in one day. If the judge grants the petition, he or she will sign an order directing the DPS to issue you an occupational license.

A waiting period may apply before you can petition the court for an occupational license. Waiting periods depend upon whether you have had prior suspensions of your license as a result of alcohol-related or drug-related contacts:

  • If you have not had a license suspension resulting from a prior alcohol-related or drug-related contact within five years from the date of your arrest, an occupational license may take effect immediately.
  • If you have had a previous suspension due to an alcohol-related or drug-related contact within five years of the date of your arrest, you will have a 90-day waiting period.
  • If you have had a previous suspension due to an intoxication-related conviction within five years of the date of your arrest, you will have a 180-day waiting period.
  • If your license is suspended as a result of a second or subsequent DWI conviction within five years, you must wait 1 year before you may seek an occupational license.

You must also file an SR-22 with the DPS before they will issue an occupational license. For more information about SR-22s, please see the “Insurance” section below.

Insurance

If you are convicted of a DWI, you will need to file an SR-22 with the Department of Public Safety. This is a form that is issued by your insurance company and certifies to the DPS that your insurance policy meets the minimum liability requirements. The cost of an SR-22 may vary by insurance company, and some companies may not even issue them.

The issuance of an SR-22 also indicates to your insurance company that you are a “high risk” driver, almost certainly resulting in an increase in the cost of your insurance premiums and possibly the non-renewal of your policy when it expires.

The failure to file an SR-22 will lead to license suspension.

Your insurance company may also use a DWI to charge you higher premiums.

DPS surcharges

Following a DWI conviction, the Department of Public Safety also charges administrative fees known as surcharges. These fees are charged independent of any fines imposed by a court, and are charged by the DPS for the three years following the conviction.

The DPS surcharge following a first conviction is $1,000 per year ($3,000 total). For the second and subsequent convictions, the surcharge is $1,500 per year ($4,500 total). If the offense involved a blood alcohol concentration of 0.16 or more, the surcharge is $2,000 per year ($6,000 total).

The failure to pay these surcharges will lead to license suspension.

Civil liability

If you are involved in an accident while you are driving while intoxicated, you may also face civil liability for any damage or injuries you cause. This includes injuries to people both in your vehicle and in other vehicles, damage to the vehicles involved, and even damage to property such as buildings or road barriers.

Depending on the circumstances, a civil judgment could be anywhere from a few thousand dollars (if only property damage is involved) to several hundred thousand dollars (in the event of serious bodily injury or death). If your insurance policy does not cover the amount of damages, you may be personally liable for the excess amounts.

As you can see, a DWI can have serious (and expensive!) consequences in addition to those that may be imposed by a criminal court. Should you find yourself facing a DWI charge, it is extremely important to find an attorney experienced in both criminal and civil law who can help guide you through the myriad non-criminal issues that will inevitably come along with it.