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  • Writer's pictureJustin Sparks

Is DWI a Felony in Texas?

Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense across all of the US. However, Texas is particularly tough on careless drivers. The state normally treats DWI as a misdemeanor. As such, they charge offenders with steep fines and up to 3 days in county jail.

However, it's also possible for Texas to charge DWIs as a felony. Unlike misdemeanors, felonies involve drivers committing more serious crimes. Therefore, they come with much harsher penalties. Some of these include a $10,000+ fine, as well as years or even decades in federal prison.

But it's important to note that the state will only charge DWIs as felonies under a specific set of circumstances. So drivers wondering ‘is DWI a felony in Texas’ should inform themselves of the specifics of the Texas Penal Code. This will help them avoid facing felony charges for intoxicated driving. Moreover, it will also ensure they can mount a strong defense for their case.

How Texas Punishes Intoxicated Driving

How Texas Punishes Intoxicated Driving

Like most states, Texas has a very firm stance on drunk driving. In fact, in 2018, the state implemented the Zero Tolerance law. Among other things, the law bans drivers from operating a vehicle if they even have a trace of alcohol in their system. Those caught driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 will be charged with a DWI.

However, whether a driver receives a DWI or a DUI depends on their age. Generally speaking, both terms refer to driving while intoxicated. However, DWI includes other controlled substances besides alcohol, such as illegal drugs. What’s more, Texas courts treat DWI as being more severe than a DUI.

DUIs, or driving under the influence, is a charge Texas levies against minors exclusively. If the police catch a person under the age of 18 operating a vehicle with trace amounts of alcohol in their system, they will charge them with a DUI. The minor will face several penalties, including a $500 fine, a suspended license, and anywhere between 20‒40h of community service.

However, if an adult over the age of 21 is found operating a vehicle with alcohol or other controlled substances in their system, the police will charge them with a DWI. The courts treat this charge as a Class A misdemeanor. As such, drivers face a fine of $2,000+, a suspended license, and up to 3 days in county jail.

Is DWI a Felony in Texas

As serious as a DWI is, it can get worse. Texas can elevate DWI charges based on several factors. These include the number of prior convictions, the driver’s blood-alcohol level, and if their intoxicated driving caused any accidents. So, is jail time mandatory for 1st DWI in Texas?

Generally speaking, first-time offenders receive the easiest punishment. The state will treat their offense as a class B misdemeanor and charge the driver with the before mentioned fine and a minimum of 72h in county jail. If this is their second offense, then the punishment will be harsher. The fine doubles to $4,000, and the driver will lose their license for over 180 days. However, the state will still treat the offense as a class A misdemeanor.

Third-time offenders have the hardest time. Not only do they face fines of $10,000+ and a suspended license, but the state treats their offense as a felony. Felonies involve a great deal more penalties than misdemeanors, such as 2-20 years in federal prison, potential loss of employment, and the loss of other government benefits.

What’s more, the crime will go on the driver’s permanent record. This, in turn, seriously impedes people's chances of finding a job, applying for housing, or a loan in the future.

Can First-Timers Get a Felony Charge?

While Texas typically charges third-time offenders with felonies, it’s also possible for second-time or even first-time offenders to catch a felony charge. For example, if a first-time offender gets pulled over while having a child passenger with them, the courts will charge them with driving under the influence with a child passenger charge. This is a state jail felony and involves a prison sentence of up to 2 years.

If the driver gets into an accident that seriously injures someone, they will be charged with intoxication assault. Texas law classes this offense as a second-degree felony. Therefore, anyone charged with it can face up to 20 years in federal prison.

Lastly, if the accident causes a fatality, the courts will charge the driver with intoxication manslaughter. This is a third-degree felony and comes with a $10,000 fine and 20 years to life in prison.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, is DWI a felony in Texas? The answer is that it depends. While the Lone Star state classes most DWIs as misdemeanors, certain factors can elevate this charge to a felony. A few of these include the age of the driver, the number of prior offenses, and whether they caused an accident when driving under the influence.

Therefore, if drivers want to avoid getting a felony on their permanent record, they must understand the specifics of Texas DWI laws. What’s more, they should work with experienced DWI lawyers to ensure they get the best defense possible.


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