Have you heard the old Texas Department of Transportation campaign slogan, Don’t Mess with Texas? It was an effort begun back in the 1980s to reduce litter along Texas highways statewide, but since then has taken on a much larger meaning.
In fact, today it seems to apply quite well to repeat DWI offenders here in the Lone Star State. Especially when statistics say they currently account for one of every 20 people serving in Texas prisons – nearly three dozen of whom are in for life.
So, how does a Texas DWI offender go from facing a year or so with no driver’s license to spending the rest of their life in jail?
Today we specifically cover how charges work and what penalties you could face after multiple DWI convictions in Texas.
The Jump from Misdemeanor to Felony DWI Charges
Although there are a number of factors which impact your blood alcohol content level (BAC), if you’re over the legal limit, law enforcement doesn’t really care how you got there.
Regardless of how many drinks you had, or how long you waited until you got behind the wheel, if you’ve been driving and testing shows your BAC level is above .08, you’re legally intoxicated and liable to be charged with a DWI.
Typically a first or second DWI offense is classified as a misdemeanor, Class B and Class A, respectively. However, on a third or higher incident of driving while intoxicated, you’ll likely be charged with a third-degree felony – or worse.
Ultimately, the penalties you might face largely depend on the number of convictions of the same crime on your record.
Class A Misdemeanor
With the right Fort Worth DWI defense attorney, punishment on your first offense may be reduced from the maximum sentencing of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine to a year with a revoked license and some lower fine.
On the other hand, with heightened awareness about drinking and driving, it’s nearly certain the judge won’t go light your second time around.
A second DWI (Class A Misdemeanor) can double your license suspension time to 2 years and your fine to $4,000. Conviction on this charge also carries a year max behind bars.
Still, felony penalties are always stiffer than lower-level misdemeanors like these.
On third offenses and beyond, assuming no additional criminal history or other aggravating factors, drunk drivers typically face third-degree felony charges. Penalties can include:
- Up to two years driver’s license revocation
- Two to 10 years in state prison
- Fines up to $10,000
- Mandatory participation in a DWI intervention or other alcohol awareness program*
*Often, the court requires an ignition interlock device placed in the offender’s vehicle as a part of the ordered treatment program.
In addition to these penalties typical of a third-degree felony, at the court’s discretion, an offender may also be responsible for an annual surcharge of $1,500 for three years.
When Texas Felony DWI Charges Could Land You in Prison for Life
If a prior DWI resulted in you spending time in a Texas penitentiary, your third-degree Felony could be enhanced to a felony of the second degree.
A Single Stint in the State Penitentiary
For spending time in a Texas penitentiary for a single prior DWI, plan on fighting a 20-year jail sentence, two-year license suspension, and up to $10,000 in potential fines (plus the $1,500 annual surcharge).
More Than One Penitentiary Sentence Could Mean Life
Two prior incarcerations in a Texas penitentiary for driving while intoxicated automatically open the doors for a jail sentence from 25 years to life – plus DL suspension and the aforementioned fines.
In any case, DWI charges don’t mean a conviction. Just don’t face these potentially life-altering charges alone. An experienced Fort Worth DWI attorney can guide you through your options and mount the most effective defense for your specific case.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.