There is a significant difference between public intoxication and driving while intoxicated in the state of Texas. Public intoxication is a relatively minor criminal offense in most situations, especially for a first conviction. That does not mean that problems cannot arise for those individuals arrested for public intoxication. Especially if the investigating officer thinks a suspect is under the influence of drugs, and especially illegal substances. In addition, it normally takes a multitude of public intoxication convictions before punishment becomes severe. The same cannot be said for those arrested for driving while intoxicated.
While both charges are evaluated based on prior records, driving while intoxicated is easily the more serious and can even result in a felony when certain circumstances observed by the arresting officer. For example, it is a felony charge when a person, regardless of criminal history, is arrested for DWI with a child passenger.
Public intoxication charges in Texas are not filed merely because an individual is drinking in public, even when they are obviously intoxicated. Officers rarely administer a breathalyzer, like in a DWI case. The testimony of the officer is usually the only evidence recorded. Due to the charge being relatively minor, officers don’t want to waste resources thoroughly gathering evidence (such as blood samples) in public intoxication charges. However, when suspects are acting erratically and appear as a potential danger to themselves or someone else, public intoxication arrests are common.
Driving While Intoxicated
Driving while intoxicated is a much more serious crime in Texas than public intoxication. With a Public Intoxication charge, there is no blood alcohol concentration level that allows the state to assume an individual is intoxicated. This is not the situation in a case of driving while intoxicated. Anyone driving a vehicle and is found to have a blood alcohol concentration level of .08 is considered over the legal limit and will be charged. In addition, those who refuse a breathalyzer will have their driver’s privileges suspended for a period of at least 180 days as well. Intoxicated drivers with a BAC of .15 or higher will be charged with a higher-level offense. Drivers with BAC of .08 can still result in greater charges being filed, such as in the case of a child riding in the vehicle. Intoxication Assault charges can also be filed in the event of an accident involving a drunk driver, often resulting in long prison terms and potential personal injury lawsuits. Those drivers found to have unauthorized or illegal drugs in their system could also be charged with driving while intoxicated.
Penalties for public intoxication are capped at $500, with normally only a detox jail stay. It largely depends on the circumstances associated with the public intoxication charge whether someone will ultimately be convicted. Penalties for a DWI are significantly worse. First offenders can receive some type of jail term, along with a much higher fine. Driver’s license suspension is also a penalty for DWI with its length based on the how egregious the DWI case. Multiple offenders are required by Texas statute to serve a mandatory minimum jail term. This is dependent on the material case factors of the arrest and whether there is an accident involved as well. Fatal accidents can result in manslaughter or vehicular homicide charges that require sentences of up to 20 in prison years if convicted.
While you may not choose to have legal counsel in a public intoxication prosecution, the same does not apply for defending a charge for driving while intoxicated. If blood work shows the presence of controlled substances or illegal drugs the state may still proceed with a DWI charge even if no alcohol is detected.