First offense DWI stresses bankrolls

Photo Illustration courtesy of Travis Taylor | Lariat Photographer

Photo Illustration courtesy of Travis Taylor | Lariat Photographer
Photo Illustration courtesy of Travis Taylor | Lariat Photographer
By Madison Ferril

You’ve had a few too many drinks and decided to drive home. You feel fine and your apartment’s only a few miles away.

As you make your way down the road, you see the red and blue lights in your rear view mirror. You pull over, and after failing a Breathalyzer test, you’re charged with Driving While Under the Influence (DWI).

So what does this mean for you or your parent’s bank account?

Baylor Police Department chief Jim Doak said by the end of the process, a DWI charge will end up costing more than $10,000.

“It’s a high cost for one night of foolishness,” Doak said. “It takes a long time to undo.”

Doak said he has given many students DWIs and it’s not an uncommon occurrence. Eight students have received DWIs this semester from Baylor Police Department.

In Texas, DWI is classified as a Class B misdemeanor on first offense if Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or lower, and a Class A misdemeanor if BAC is 0.15 percent or above. These standards became effective in 2011.

Texas also has an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) program. If someone fails a breath test, his or her license is automatically suspended for 90 days. Someone can refuse to take a breath test, but if they do, their license is suspended for 180 days. A $125 reinstatement fee is required before someone can get their license back.

Waco Police Department Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said there is no set sentence for someone who receives a DWI.

“There’s a variety of factors that go into deciding a charge,” Swanton said.

Swanton said someone could receive jail time, a fine or jail time and a fine.

Someone who receives a DWI must appear in court, and therefore have to hire a criminal defense lawyer.

Attorney Russell Hunt Sr. said attorneys can charge anywhere from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars.

“My typical fee for a first-time adult DWI is $5,000,” Hunt said.

Hunt said once he receives a DWI case, he goes to the district attorney and tries to get the charges refused or dismissed. A refusal means the prosecutor decides not to try a case before the case is filed. A dismissal means the prosecutor can dismiss a case with the signature of a judge.

“If there’s no way to get the charges refused or dismissed, we try to get a plea bargain,” Hunt said.

A plea bargain means someone pleads guilty or no contest to a charge in exchange for a lighter sentence. No contest means the person did not dispute or admit to the charges against them.

“An average plea bargain is about 18 months probation and a $2,000 fine, of which our client will pay $1,000,” Hunt said. “They’ll also have to pay court fees, which are around $300.”

In addition to the fines and court costs, the state of Texas requires an annual fee of $1,000 for three years after the case is over.

If the case goes to trial, Hunt said he charges an extra $5,000.

If a student lives outside of Waco or McLennan County, they and their parents may have to consider cost of travel to and from Waco.

Peter Miller, the deputy director of McLennan County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, said the court can charge fees such as restitution for an accident or damages in addition to the fine and monthly probation fee. He said auto insurance rates also increase due to a DWI charge.

Miller said the average length of probation for a DWI is less than two years.

“The sentence lengths vary now,” Miller said. “But the average probation sentence for a DWI is 12-18 months.”

Miller said in addition to the monthly probation fees, a first offender must take a DWI class, which costs $75. Multiple offenders have to pay up to $300 for the class. A person on probation must notify a probation officer of all non-essential travel at least 48 hours before they intend to leave the county. All changes of residence, job, or employment must be reported to the probation officer within 72 hours.

Fees must be mailed in or taken directly to the McLennan County C.S.C.D. office, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. There’s no online payment system and all mailed in payments must be cashier’s check or money order.

The state of Texas requires anyone convicted of a DWI to file a Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate, also known as an SR-22, which costs about $70 per month. Lesser alcohol charges, such as minor in possession or minor consuming alcohol, are Class C misdemeanors and come with their own set of rules. Class C misdemeanors are finable-only offenses. If someone is charged, they could pay a fine up to $500. Justice of the Peace Kristi DeCluitt said students must take an alcohol awareness course and perform eight hours of community service on first offense. “Some students ask for more community service in lieu of the fine,” DeCluitt said.

Doak said a student could file for an expunction, or removal of a charge, if they receive a minor in possession or minor consuming alcohol charge, but they may have to hire a lawyer, which would be more expensive than the ticket itself. The court also requires filing fees. According to the McLennan County District Clerk Fees, the cost to file an expunction is $258, plus $18.50 for every agency the order is sent to. A charge could disqualify a student from certain jobs, such as federal law enforcement.

“It’s not devastating, but it’s costly and embarrassing,” Doak said. “I’ve never had a student come to me and tell me they’re proud of their charges.”