What you need to know about DWLI in Texas

WHAT IS A DWLI AND WHY WOULD YOU BE CHARGED WITH IT?

A DWLI is the acronym, or abbreviation, for the offense of Driving While License Invalid. The Texas Transportation Code Section 521.457 says that there are four ways a person can commit the offense of DWLI: (1) after the person’s driver’s license has been canceled under this chapter if the person does not have a license that was subsequently issued under this chapter, (2) during a period that the person’s driver’s license or privilege is suspended or revoked under any law of this state, (3) while the person’s driver’s license is expired if the license expired during a period of suspension, or (4) after renewal of the person’s driver’s license has been denied under any law of this state, if the person does not have a driver’s license subsequently issued under this chapter. See Tex. Transp. Code § 521.457(a)(1)-(4).  

Common reasons for drivers’ license suspensions include unpaid traffic tickets, driving without insurance, unpaid surcharges and prior convictions arising out of intoxication offenses like DWI. Handling a DWLI can get complicated very quickly, especially if it’s not your first one. Between calculating suspension periods, surcharges and preparing to get your license back in good standing, handling a DWLI on your own can be confusing and overwhelming. This handout is designed to provide an overview of DWLI law and help you anticipate some of the problems you will have to deal with as you resolve your DWLI case.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DRIVE WHILE YOUR LICENSE IS INVALID?

Generally, the first time you get caught driving while your license is invalid, you will receive a Class C misdemeanor citation and will not be arrested. See Tex. Transp. Code § 521.457(e). The most common exception to that is if the underlying reason for the suspension is due to outstanding traffic citations and a warrant has been issued for you. You will still receive a Class C misdemeanor citation for driving while your license is invalid, but an officer can and will arrest you during a stop for any outstanding warrants, even just a traffic warrant.

Even though this first offense of DWLI is “only” a Class C misdemeanor, it is important to try to avoid a conviction. Even your first DWLI conviction could have consequences. One consequence is that upon a first final conviction, the Department of Public Safety assesses an automatic suspension to your license. See Tex. Transp. Code § 521.293(b). Another consequence is that DWLI convictions build on each other: that means, if you ever make the mistake of driving while your license is invalid in the future, your future punishment can be enhanced to a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 file. See Tex. Transp. Code § 521.457(f)(1)-(2).  This also means that you will be prosecuted by a district attorney’s office, and not a municipal court like the first time around.  Another, sometimes unknown, consequence is surcharges, which is a topic for separate discussion.

DRIVER'S LICENSE CASES ARE NOT EASY

Far too many lawyers look at DWLI cases as being routine and straightforward. After all, you either had a valid license or you didn't. The truth is that these cases can be extremely complex. A lawyer shouldn't simply accept the fact that your license is suspended - they need to find out why, and whether the suspension is valid. There are numerous ways a license can be suspended, and mutliple different suspension periods. License suspensions are handled by administrative personnel at the Texas Department of Public Safety. On more complex issues, they may simply do what they do in other cases. We have seen a number of cases where a license was suspended for the wrong amount of time, simply because they defaulted to the standard supsension period.

The lawyer must also start at the beginning, and look at why you were stopped and arrested in the first place. We recently were successful in resolving the case because we reviewed the police car video and discovered there was no valid reason for stopping the person in the first place. Unfortunately, far too many lawyers skip that step in these cases.

Finally, your lawyer must recognize the "big picture", which includes the consequences of a conviction. Driver's license suspensions can result in a downward spiral that some people can never get out of of. The suspenions leads to new surcharges, which they cannot pay. They have to drive, so they pick up another charge, and the cycle continues. The successful resolution of your case should include a plan for getting your surcharges, get you a license to drive for work, and eventually getting your license back. If those issues are not addressed you are simply setting yourself up for failure.

There is hope, and a way out. If you have a pending DWLI case, or you are having problems paying your surcharges or getting you license back, give us a call at 254-296-0020.