Every state uses blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as its benchmark for drunken driving. BAC level can distinguish not only between guilty and not guilty, but also between ordinary penalties and enhanced penalties. Both Texas and Minnesota use BAC in this manner – in fact, both states lowered their minimum BAC levels for ordinary DWI penalties from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent not all that many years ago. Minnesota recently enacted a further modification.
The Minnesota Modification
Minnesota recently changed its BAC benchmark for enhanced penalties in a manner that might be instructive for Texas authorities. Until recently, Minnesota would enhance penalties for a DWI based on a high BAC only if the driver’s BAC equaled or exceeded 0.20 percent, or about two and a half times the usual minimum BAC for a DWI. In 2015, however, the state legislature lowered the enhanced penalty benchmark from 0.20 percent to 0.16 percent. The Minnesota Star Tribune estimates that this will result in about 3,000 Minnesota drivers per year becoming subject to enhanced penalties.
Minnesota’s Enhanced Penalties
Once a Minnesota driver records a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher, enhanced penalties kick in. These penalties include:
- an increase in the maximum jail term from 90 days to one year;
- an increase in the maximum fine from $1,000 to $3,000;
- more stringent bail conditions; and
- stiffer penalties for any subsequent DWI convictions within ten years.
Texas DWI Law
Under current Texas DWI law, enhanced penalties kick in at a BAC of 0.16 percent, the same level as Minnesota’s revised benchmark. These penalties include:
- An increase in the three-year DWI surcharge imposed by the Texas Department of Transportation from $1,000 to $2,000 (for a total of $3,000 in additional fees for a first-offense DWI).
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on your car. An IID is essentially a breathalyzer machine attached to your ignition that won’t let your car start if it detects any alcohol on your breath.
- Possible enhanced discretionary penalties. Texas law, for example, gives a court the discretion to sentence of first-time DWI to anywhere between three and 180 days in jail. A BAC of 0.16 or more might convince a judge to “throw the book” at you.
Possible Future Legislation
Research indicates that the risk of an accident drastically increases once a driver’s BAC exceeds 0.15 percent. This fact alone might be enough to convince the Texas legislature to lower its own enhanced penalty benchmark to 0.14 percent or perhaps even 0.12 percent, so that drivers will think twice before allowing themselves to reach the critical degree of intoxication. Alternatively, Texas might keep the benchmark at 0.16 percent and simply strengthen the enhanced penalties.
Talk to a Professional
Houston criminal defense lawyer Mario Madrid has been practicing law for two decades as a defense attorney, a prosecutor and a judge. As a certified specialist in Criminal Law and a member of the National College of DUI Defense Attorneys, he knows his way around a Houston DWI case. If you have been charged with DWI in the Houston area, call Madrid Law, PLLC at 713-877-9400 for a free initial consultation.