A DUI is not technically a felony in Texas. However, it’s critical to understand that Texas law classifies driving under the influence (DUI) differently than driving while intoxicated (DWI). Since the latter can be a felony under certain circumstances, which charges you receive can significantly affect the penalties you face.
A drunk driving conviction has lasting effects throughout a person’s life regardless of the conviction’s circumstances. Still, when a DWI is charged as a felony, the consequences are astronomically more severe.
Difference Between DUI and DWI in Texas
In many states, the terms DUI and DWI are used interchangeably. Both terms generally mean the driver was operating a vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs. However, under state law, the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS) uses these terms to differentiate between certain minor and adult drivers:
- Any driver over 21 years of age found with an alcohol level of 0.08 will be charged with a DWI.
- If the driver is under 17 and the officer finds any alcohol in their system, the charge is driving under the influence of alcohol (DUIA) by a minor.
- Drivers between 17 and 21 years old caught with any alcohol in their system can face charges of DWI by a minor, which comes with similar penalties to an adult DWI.
Though a DUI is not a felony in Texas, minors who receive the elevated charge of DWI can face a felony under some circumstances.
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What Makes a DWI a Felony?
Traditionally, a DWI does not become a felony charge until it is the driver’s third or subsequent offense. However, certain factors can elevate the charge to a felony, even if it is the first time. The following situations may cause a DWI to progress to a felony charge.
If the driver is intoxicated, causes a car accident, and injures another person, the DWI is charged as a third-degree felony. Under Texas Penal Code § 49.07, this is called intoxication assault. The at-fault driver may face jail time for two to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
This is a second-degree felony charge. An intoxicated driver will face this charge if they kill another person in an accident. The person may face up to 22 years of jail time and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
DWI With a Minor Passenger Below 15 Years of Age
If a driver is intoxicated and has a passenger under 15 years old in the vehicle, the driver faces felony charges. The charge is called a DWI with a child passenger. The driver may face jail time of 180 days to two years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Third DWI or More
The state also lays down harsh punishments on the third DWI or DUI charge. A third DWI is considered a third-degree felony. The driver could face jail time anywhere from two to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
If it is the third DWI charge and the driver has already been to jail for any previous offense, they will face a second-degree felony charge. The driver may receive a fine of up to $10,000 and/or:
- Two to 20 years jail time if they have only been imprisoned once
- 25 years to life if they have been imprisoned at least two previous times
Other Penalties for DWI Felony Charges
In Texas, the person facing a DWI felony may have other restrictions placed on them in addition to facing jail time and fines. For example, the person may be required to install an interlock device on the car ignition. This device will determine if the driver is intoxicated when entering the vehicle. If the device detects alcohol, the car will be temporarily disabled.
The judge may also order the person not to consume alcohol or controlled substances unless a doctor prescribes them.
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A DWI Lawyer Can Help You Navigate DWI Felony Charges
An attorney who handles DUI and DWI cases in Texas can help you understand and protect your legal rights. Our firm has helped previous clients drastically reduce the stress of facing a DWI charge.
We can fight for you throughout the entire process by:
- Reviewing all the evidence to make sure the arresting officer followed procedures correctly
- Examining the results of your breathalyzer test
- Representing you in all administrative proceedings
- Negotiating with prosecutors to get the charges dropped or reduced if possible
- Advocating for you at trial if it comes to that
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Underwood Law Firm Is Ready to Discuss Your Case
A DWI or DUI charge has serious consequences that can last for a lifetime. If you are facing one of these charges, were injured in an accident involving a drunk driver, or have a loved one facing either of these situations, you might want to consider having a lawyer at your side.
The team at Underwood Law Office has helped many clients with similar cases and is ready to help you, too. Don’t hesitate to contact our team at (972) 535-6377 for a free consultation.