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Despite high fees, DWIs persist

Oct. 20, 2005

by EMILY INGRAM, reporter

One more beer or jail. Take your pick.

DWIs can cost people up to three years of their lives and a severe hit to the wallet.

"Not counting lawyer fees and insurance, you're probably looking at $7,000 minimum in fines, probation fees, court costs and other terms and conditions of probation for the first three years," Waco DWI attorney Will Hutson said.

The financial burden of the offense may deter some students from drinking and driving.

"Seven thousand dollars? That's a large chunk of money in comparison to the financial burden of college," Baltimore law student Jennifer Sims said. "It depends on how financially dependent the student is as to how significant the deterrent effect will be."

People convicted of a DWI will also face financial burdens concerning heightened insurance -- that is, if the insurance company decides to keep someone with a DWI.

Ashley Green, a staff agent for State Farm Insurance, said that if someone is convicted of a DWI, they cancel that person's insurance policy.

"A DWI, we don't mess around with that," Green said. "If you have a DWI on record, you can't get insurance with us."

Other insurance agencies may cover liability for persons convicted of a DWI, Green said, but the majority of agencies in Waco won't offer full coverage.

Drinking and driving affects adults as well as students. Not even U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, could escape the law. Brady was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol earlier this month in South Dakota.

State troopers stopped him after noticing a problem with his tail lights. One trooper grew suspicious and asked Brady to perform several sobriety tests. He was then arrested on DUI charges.

"When driving under the influence, they're not drunk enough for a DWI," said Jim Doak, chief of the Baylor Department of Public Safety. "If you had a drink and are at 0.02 (blood alcohol level), you are driving under the influence and can be ticketed."

Texas and South Dakota's legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08 BAC.

"The fine is up to $2,000 for a guilty verdict on a DWI first offense," Hutson said. "I can't think of a more expensive crime that is an alcohol-related offense."

Other fines and expenses include a $1,000 driver's license surcharge per year, Hutson said. Lawyer fees can push up the cost as well.

Although each lawyer charges different rates, the fees can vary from $500 to make a plea to $12,000 to take the case to court, Hutson said.

"It's stupid to drink and drive," Hutson said. "You should not drive even if you have one drink."