Is License Suspension After a DWI Conviction Part of Sentencing?

In Texas, a drunk driving conviction often leads to the suspension of the defendant’s Texas Driver License. The terms and conditions of this suspension will vary based on the circumstances of a particular case. And while the suspension is mandatory in many cases, there are scenarios where a first-time offender can avoid a suspension if they successfully complete a DUI education course as part of their community supervision (i.e., probation).

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Clarifies Difference Between Civil, Criminal DWI Penalties

But as the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals explained in a recent decision, Burg v. State, the suspension of a license is not considered part of a defendant’s criminal “punishment” or sentence. This might sound like a technical distinction. However, it can matter a great deal when addressing a defendant’s rights on appeal.

What does this mean exactly?

The facts of the Burg case provide some additional context. This case began like many other DWI cases: A law enforcement officer pulled the defendant over for an apparent traffic violation. During the course of the stop, the officer began to suspect the defendant had been driving while intoxicated. Subsequent testing showed the defendant had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.212, more than twice the legal limit under Texas law.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with Class A misdemeanor DWI. A jury found the defendant guilty and recommended he serve one year of community supervision. At sentencing, the judge opted to require 18 months of community supervision. Additionally, the judge said he would suspend the defendant’s Texas Driver License for one year.

On appeal to an intermediate court, the defendant argued the suspension of his driver’s license was illegal, since he was a first-time offender on probation and required to complete a DWI education program. The appellate court rejected this argument, interpreting the defendant as objecting to a condition of his probation. And since he never made such an objection before the trial court, he forfeited his right to do so on appeal.

Before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the defendant said the intermediate court misunderstood his argument. He was not objecting to the suspension of his license as a condition of probation, but rather as an “illegal sentence” for the DWI itself. But the Court of Criminal Appeals held the license suspension was not part of the sentence, and it was not considered “punishment” under the law.

Now, this might seem to defy common sense: How is telling someone they are not allowed to drive not a punishment. The Court explained that a punishment in the criminal context refers to the “forfeiture of civil or political rights.” But “driving is a privilege and not a right.” And revoking a defendant’s Texas Driver License has always been treated under Texas law as a “civil penalty,” similar to paying court costs.

Need Help Fighting Texas Driver License Suspension?

Call Houston DWI & ALR Lawyer Tad A. Nelson today!

For many people, the loss of driving privileges is often the most significant consequence of a drunk driving conviction. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Houston DWI lawyer even when charged with a first-time drunk driving offense. If you need to speak with a lawyer right away, contact Attorney Tad A. Nelson today by calling 713-489-7373.