A Simple Guide to the Differences Between a DUI and a DWI Charge in Texas

Home » A Simple Guide to the Differences Between a DUI and a DWI Charge in Texas

A night that starts fun and full of alcoholic drinks can turn into a nightmare if you are arrested drunk behind the wheel. The somber thought of spending time in prison is enough to make you panic.


The first thing to do is understand what you are up against. Understanding the charges is the first step to winning in court.

It is important to know what DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) mean if you want to mount a good defense. Knowing the difference between DUI and DWI in Texas will prepare you to craft specific defenses in court.

We will dive further into why it matters below and you’ll learn what you need to know to get started.

Difference Between DUI and DWI in Texas

What’s the actual difference? In the state of Texas, a DUI is designated for an underage person (someone under the age of 21) operating a vehicle whether they are above the BAC (breath alcohol concentration) limit of .08% or not.

Yes, any driver under the age of 21 with any trace of alcohol in their system can be charged with a DUI; in fact, it’s illegal for underage people to even be in possession of alcohol in a vehicle.

A DWI is charged under the Texas Penal Code. Because of this designation, a DWI is much more serious than a DUI.

If you are operating a vehicle and your BAC is over .08% or you’re clearly driving impaired, then you can be charged with a DWI. If you are under the age of 21 driving with a BAC over .08, then you can be charged with both DWI and DUI.


A DUI and DWI carry very different penalties depending on repeat offending and BAC levels.

A DUI is categorized as a class C misdemeanor. The penalties are as follows:

  • Up to $500 fine
  • Up to 40 hours of community service
  • Mandatory alcohol awareness courses
  • 60-day license suspension

The fines and consequences increase with a second or third time being arrested. A minor who also has a BAC over the limit could receive:

Additionally, if adults are caught providing alcohol to minors, they can face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Parents, spouses, and legal guardians can provide alcohol to their children or spouses if they are present when it’s possessed and consumed.


A DWI is categorized as a class B misdemeanor. First-time penalties are as follows:

  • Up to $2,000 fine
  • Up to 180 days in jail
  • Up to a year of license suspension
  • Up to $2,000 fine annually for three years to retain the license

If your BAC level is at or above .15%, then the DWI is recategorized as a class A misdemeanor.

In Texas, a DUI or DWI that results in the bodily injury of another person can elevate the misdemeanors to felonies. These felonies carry more severe punishments such as a decade in prison and fines that can reach $10,000.

If these penalties do not scare you already, consider that your car insurance rates may increase as well or worse – loss of coverage.

Some judges may decide driving is absolutely necessary for you. Instead of having your license suspended, a judge may order an ignition lock on your car. These locks will let you start your vehicle if you are able to breathe a BAC level of 0.0% into it.

What If You’ve Been Arrested?

It does not matter if you are of legal drinking age or not, these are serious charges and require professional legal help. A great lawyer will help you navigate the court system and mount a strong defense.

Without this help, you can end up in jail with fines that could cripple a family.

Naturally, you are going to have tons of questions following an arrest and DUI or DWI charge. A competent lawyer should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Do I have to plead guilty?
  • Do I have to take a field sobriety test? What happens if I refuse?
  • Can I represent myself in court?
  • What if I wasn’t read my Miranda rights?
  • What are the costs of a lawyer?
  • Can I be convicted of a DWI/DUI if my BAC is not above .08%?
  • Can marijuana or drugs result in a DWI/DUI conviction?
  • What are the possible penalties I face?

There are probably more questions and concerns running through your mind. But this is a good list to get you started.

Plead Guilty or Go to Court?

If you are arrested and charged with a DUI or DWI in Texas, then you can plead guilty and accept whatever sentence is handed to you. Please, understand this is rarely the best path.

Hiring a professional lawyer to fight for you is the best possible option. A lawyer can help reduce your charges, sentence, or possibly get the charges dropped and dismissed.

Remember, pleading guilty will give you a record that can make gaining employment more difficult, ruin your reputation, and probably affect driving privileges.

There are numerous defensive strategies that an experienced lawyer can use. If the police didn’t follow the procedure in your arrest, a lawyer can point out the errors and push for a dismissal or a plea bargain for something less severe that carries a less sentence.

If your BAC levels are over the legal limit, a good lawyer can still argue for you to receive a not guilty verdict. There are many factors and reasons a person could be over the legal limit.

What to Do Next?

Taking on a DWI/DUI charge is a daunting task that makes most people feeling helpless and scared. Now that you know the difference between DUI and DWI in Texas, you are ready to face the challenges of the court system.

When you hire a strong lawyer with the right skills and experience, you are giving yourself the best possible chance for a positive result.