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Houston drivers who have a DWI with children in the car are getting probation instead of jail time

 

Driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous for everyone on the road. Driving intoxicated with children is especially heinous, since parents and adults are responsible for the safety of minors. 

So, it can be a shock to some to learn offenders with a DWI with children charge aren’t serving jailtime. Yet, that’s exactly what a news station in Houston discovered after an investigation.

News station KHOU-TV reports nearly two-thirds of Harris County DWI drivers who had children in their vehicles during a crash or arrest are on court-ordered probation for a year or two in lieu of being sentenced to prison. Of the DWI with child passenger cases reviewed from January 2017 to September 2019, the news station found nearly 65 percent of the offenders served probation.

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A prosecutor told KHOU-TV that the offenders are monitored weekly and are subject to multiple penalties including having their license suspended, using a breathalyzer to start vehicles, attending alcoholics anonymous meetings, completing community service, and other court-ordered restrictions.

Texas law considers a driver with a .08 blood alcohol concentration level to be legally intoxicated. Passengers 15 and younger in Texas are considered minors. Drivers who have a minor passenger at the time of their DWI arrest can be charged with child endangerment, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. The driver could also be punished with up to a $10,000 fine, the loss of his or her license for 180 days and up to two years in a state jail.

The Harris County prosecutor told KHOU-TV that probation is offered to first-time offenders and is a way to “keep family units together.”

The news station discovered dozens of the drivers had previous alcohol charges or drug-related charges still received probation for a DWI with a child. The prosecutor told KHOU-TV that the probation is “rolling the dice” and that prosecutors “have a job to restore members of the community going forward, and it’s a balancing act.”

Despite offenders receiving probation instead of jail time for DWI with children in the car, having a child passenger while intoxicated is a serious crime in Texas. A third-degree felony can result in up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

A second-degree felony can result in up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Felony offenders can be ordered to complete up to 1,000 hours of community service. Various fees and court costs can also be imposed.

All drunk driving charges involve the very real belief that an alleged offender placed innocent people at risk, but these feelings are even stronger when it is believed that the driver acted so carelessly while transporting a defenseless child who was forced to placed his or her trust in that adult. Texas takes this crime quite seriously, and a person accused of this offense will face felony charges – even if it is his or her first DWI.

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Matt Horak Matt Horak is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 2014