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DUI, DWI, and Drunk Driving – What’s the difference?

The DWI definition (Driving While Intoxicated) in Texas is when a person operates a motor vehicle while intoxicated. “Intoxicated” is defined in the Texas Penal Code as “not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.” Texas Penal Code section 49.01. The punishment for DWI offense offenses ranges from probation to confinement in the Texas Department of Corrections, affectionately known as the “THE PEN.” The severity of the punishment depends on a number of factors including the criminal history of the accused, past convictions for DWI, and whether there was an accident, injury, or death as a result.

  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI) specifically involves those individuals who have not reached the legal drinking age of 21 and are operating a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of alcohol in their systems. The main difference with this charge is that the officer merely has to “detect alcohol”, it is not required that intoxication be proven or even shown. These offenses are typically Class C offenses with a fine not to exceed $500.00 and community service, driver’s safety courses or perhaps course in underage drinking.
  • “Drunk Driving” is the term that has been sensationalized by our legal system, lobbyists, and the media and has created a stigma for those accused of DWI/DUI. It is a term used to make our society as a whole fearful of responsible drinking and driving. It is a term that has criminalized having a glass of wine with dinner and then driving home afterwards. It has become the battle cry for others and a symbol of how far our society has fallen. We have chosen to criminalize what is in fact not criminal in nature.

In the context of a DWI case, the prosecutor has a much lower burden of proof than to show the accused was driving while drunk. The prosecutor must merely show that the accused lost the “normal use of his physical or mental faculties.” The true irony is that the DA will argue the accused lost the “normal use” but the proof will be based upon performance of activities that are not normal — the field sobriety tests. A good attorney can exploit this irony.

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