An ordinary first-offense Texas DWI, if any DWI can be called ordinary, is a misdemeanor offense, not a felony offense. But Texas DWI crimes can quickly turn into felonies. And it's not just multiple DWI convictions that can turn a Texas DWI from a misdemeanor to a felony. Several other circumstances surrounding your DWI can turn it into a felony, not just multiple prior DWI convictions. Depending on the circumstances of your DWI arrest, you could face felony DWI charges for your first Texas DWI offense, even if you've never faced prior DWI charges. The discussion below shows you exactly how Texas DWIs turn into felonies, which can be a very important question when you face Texas DWI charges.
But don't let the issue of whether Texas charges DWIs as felonies or misdemeanors fool you. Yes, felony crimes are generally more serious than misdemeanor crimes. And felony punishments are generally more serious than misdemeanor punishments. But any Texas DWI, whether a misdemeanor or felony, can have serious consequences. Any Texas DWI, even misdemeanor DWIs, can have consequences that feel like felony consequences. The better thing to do right now than to worry about whether your DWI crime is a felony or misdemeanor is to retain premier Texas DWI Specialist attorney Doug Murphy to help you get the best possible outcome to your DWI charges.
All Texas DWI Crimes Can Have Serious Consequences
Before getting into the details of Texas felony and misdemeanor DWI charges, consider why you are asking whether Texas charges DWIs as felonies or misdemeanors. Your main concern is likely the punishment you may face, not the technical nature of the DWI charge. And yes, Texas authorizes much more severe penalties for DWI felonies than DWI misdemeanors. But just because you face a DWI with harsher potential penalties doesn't mean you will suffer those penalties. Your DWI Specialist defense attorney may succeed in winning the dismissal of serious Texas felony DWI charges so that you incur no jail time, fine, or another penalty.
Conversely, if you plead guilty to a Texas misdemeanor DWI charge without any legal advice or representation, the judge may impose the maximum misdemeanor sentence, requiring you to spend up to a year in jail, followed by lengthy and onerous probation. And the administrative penalties like driver's license suspension, community service, ignition device, fees and fines, and collateral consequences like the loss of your child's custody or loss of your professional, business, or trades license, may be as severe as or more severe than the criminal punishment. Yes, DWI felony or DWI misdemeanor matters. But all Texas DWI crimes can have serious consequences.
The Definitions of Felony and Misdemeanor
First, understand the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. In general law terms, felonies are crimes for which the law authorizes incarceration for more than one year, while misdemeanors are crimes for which the law authorizes incarceration for one year or less. But state and federal statutes blur those lines. Some misdemeanor DWI laws in Texas and elsewhere authorize incarceration beyond one year. And you could end up in jail for more than a year due to probation violations or other issues on a Texas DWI misdemeanor conviction that only authorized incarceration of one year or less. On the other hand, your Texas DWI felony conviction may not result in any incarceration beyond the short duration at your arrest, depending on the circumstances, including whether you hire a skilled and experienced DWI Specialist defense attorney.
Texas Felony and Misdemeanor Classifications
To make the differences between Texas felonies and misdemeanors clearer, consider the Texas offense levels and their potential punishments. When the prosecutor charges you with a Texas DWI, the prosecutor will name the specific Texas DWI offense level. That specification will include both whether the DWI charge is a felony or misdemeanor charge and what level of misdemeanor or level of felony you face. Your retained Texas DWI Specialist defense attorney will ensure that the prosecutor does not over charge the DWI offense level, even while your attorney fights all charges.
Texas Misdemeanor Offense Levels and Punishments
Texas has three misdemeanor offense levels, each with more-serious punishment. Class C misdemeanor is the lowest Texas misdemeanor level, authorizing no jail time but a fine of up to $500. Class B misdemeanor is the next Texas offense level, authorizing up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Class A misdemeanor is the next Texas offense level, authorizing up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Keep in mind, though, that other circumstances can lead to incarceration for longer periods and greater fines and costs related to your Texas DWI misdemeanor charge, depending on the circumstances.
Texas Felony Offense Levels and Punishments
Texas has five felony offense levels, each with more-serious punishment. A state jail felony is the least serious Texas felony, authorizing up to two years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. A third-degree felony is the next Texas felony, authorizing up to ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. A second-degree felony is the next level, authorizing up to twenty years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. A first-degree felony is the next level, authorizing up to ninety-nine years in prison. A capital felony is the highest offense level, authorizing the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Texas DWI Crimes and Their Offense Levels
You can see from the above Texas offense levels that whether you face a Texas DWI felony or misdemeanor charge can make a vast difference in potential penalties. But you can also see that the DWI misdemeanor offense level or DWI felony offense level can make a vast difference in potential penalties. Your Texas DWI Specialist defense attorney will evaluate the prosecution's allegations and evidence at the preliminary hearing and afterward to challenge and seek dismissal of any charged DWI offense type or level that admissible evidence does not support, even while fighting all DWI charges.
Texas DWI Misdemeanors
Texas classifies an ordinary first DWI offense, without other aggravating circumstances, as a Class B misdemeanor. If the prosecution convicts you of that offense, you face a minimum of seventy-two hours in jail and up to 180 days in jail. You'll also face up to a $2,000 fine and suspension of your driver's license for from ninety days to one year. Texas also treats driving with an open container of alcohol as a Class B misdemeanor, even if you are not intoxicated, as long as you know of the open container.
Texas elevates your first DWI offense from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor if your blood alcohol level is 0.15% or higher, approximately double the ordinary 0.08% limit. Texas also classifies ordinary second DWI offenses as misdemeanors but raises the offense level to a Class A misdemeanor. If the prosecution convicts you of that offense, you face from thirty days up to one year in jail, up to a $4,000 fine, and a driver's license suspension of 180 days to two years. Conviction on second or subsequent Texas DWI offenses may also require that you install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle and that you attend repeat offender DWI school.
Texas Felony Multiple Prior DWI Convictions
While an ordinary first or second DWI offense is a Texas misdemeanor, Texas treats a third or subsequent DWI offense as a third-degree felony, punishable with a minimum of two years and a maximum of ten years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine, and a driver's license suspension of two years. Texas charges third, fourth, and subsequent DWI offenses at the same level. But the number of DWI offenses can still matter in the sentence that the judge imposes for conviction, whether at the bottom or the top of the sentencing ranges. Your prior DWI convictions need not be Texas DWI convictions. If you suffered a DWI or DUI conviction in another state, then those prior convictions may count toward your Texas DWI multiple conviction charge.
Texas Felony DWI with a Child Passenger
Multiple prior DWI convictions aren't the only way to elevate an ordinary Texas DWI misdemeanor into a Texas DWI felony. Texas also punishes DWI with a child passenger as a felony. If you commit a Texas DWI crime with a child under age fifteen in your vehicle, then you may face a Texas state jail felony charge, punishable by a minimum jail sentence of 180 days and a maximum jail sentence of two years, a fine up to $10,000, and driver's license suspension of 180 days. The judge may also impose probation, up to 1,000 hours of community service, installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle, completion of an alcohol or drug education course, attendance at a DWI school or repeat offender DWI school, and additional fees.
Texas Felony DWI Causing Serious Bodily Injury
If your DWI crime intoxication causes serious bodily injury to another, then Texas law elevates what would otherwise be an ordinary Class B misdemeanor to a third-degree intoxication assault felony. Intoxication assault brings a potential sentence of from two to ten years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and a driver's license suspension from ninety days to one year. You would also face probation, community service, interlock device, education, and fees imposed for other Texas DWI felonies like the forgoing child endangerment DWI.
Texas Felony DWI Causing Death
If your DWI crime intoxication causes another's death, then Texas elevates the crime to a second-degree intoxication manslaughter felony. Intoxication manslaughter thus may bring a minimum jail sentence of two years and a maximum jail sentence of twenty years, plus a $10,000 fine and a one-year license suspension. You would also face probation, community service, interlock device, education, and fees imposed for other Texas DWI felonies.
Reducing the Offense Level
Just because prosecutors charge you with a DWI crime doesn't mean you will suffer a conviction for that crime. Prosecutors sometimes over charge DWI crimes, where admissible evidence will not support the higher charge. Prosecutors may believe that they have admissible evidence to support the higher charge when they do not. They may make mistakes in the charge. And some prosecutors may believe that by overcharging a potential but unsupported DWI crime, they may more easily negotiate a plea to the lower correct charge. No matter your situation when facing an elevated DWI charge, you should know that skilled and experienced DWI Specialist defense representation may enable you to reduce or even defeat the elevated DWI charge. Here are but a few examples where a charge reduction or dismissal would be appropriate:
● the prosecutor charges a second or subsequent DWI offense, but you had no prior qualifying DWI offenses;
● the prosecutor charges DWI with a blood alcohol content of 0.15% or greater, but the test results are unreliable and inadmissible;
● the prosecutor charges DWI with a child passenger, but the only child passengers in the vehicle were age fifteen or older;
● the prosecutor charges intoxication assault, but the person's injury was not a sufficiently serious injury;
● the prosecutor charges intoxication assault, but your intoxication did not cause or contribute to the person's serious bodily injury;
● the prosecutor charges intoxication manslaughter, but your intoxication did not cause or contribute to the person's death;
● the prosecutor charges any DWI offense, elevated or not, when the charge relies on evidence discovered in violation of your constitutional rights;
● the prosecutor charges any DWI offense, elevated or not, when the charge relies on unreliable and inadmissible field sobriety, breath, or blood test results; or
● the prosecutor charges any DWI offense after your stop without reasonable suspicion of a crime or your arrest without probable cause.
The Role of a DWI Specialist Defense Attorney
Reducing your Texas DWI charge from a higher-degree felony to a lower-degree felony, from a felony to a misdemeanor, or from a higher-class misdemeanor to a lower-class misdemeanor, can make a big difference in your outcome. Dismissal of your Texas DWI charge can make an even bigger difference. But the above DWI charge reductions and DWI charge dismissals don't just happen on their own. Prosecutors prosecute. Prosecutors aren't watching out for your rights and interests. And while judges will generally ensure fair court proceedings, judges are not your defense advocate either. You very likely need to retain a skilled and experienced DWI Specialist if you are to gain the DWI charge reduction or charge dismissal that will most improve your situation. Your DWI Specialist may do many things to contribute to your best possible outcome, including DWI charge reduction or even dismissal. Here are a few of the special actions your DWI Specialist may take to gain charge reduction, charge dismissal, and your best DWI charge outcome:
● help you negotiate and obtain reasonable bail terms to get out of jail after your DWI arrest so that you can contribute to your DWI defense while continuing to lead a relatively normal life;
● attend your arraignment to ensure that you enter an appropriate not-guilty plea, avoid self-incrimination, and understand and exercise all of your other statutory, procedural, and constitutional rights;
● attend the preliminary examination in your case so that the court dismisses any DWI charge that the prosecution's evidence does not support;
● request and represent you at your Administrative License Revocation hearing to help you preserve your driver's license, which you may need to care for your children and family, get to school, get to work, and get to medical appointments;
● plea bargain with the prosecutor for voluntary dismissal, abandonment, or reduction of the charges, while advising you as to the prosecution's plea offers;
● draft and argue motions to suppress when police have violated your constitutional rights so that the court can dismiss any charge that admissible evidence does not support;
● dispute field sobriety tests, breathalyzer tests, and blood test results to prove them unreliable and inadmissible in court, with appropriate charge reduction or dismissal;
● consult and retain expert witnesses on your behalf, and identify lay witnesses in your defense while securing their attendance at trial;
● conduct jury selection to ensure that jurors hold no bias or prejudice against you;
● cross-examine prosecution witnesses at trial to expose conflicts, inconsistencies, lack of foundation, lack of qualifications, bias, interest, and other lack of credibility, to raise reasonable doubt in the prosecution's case at trial;
● obtain dismissal of the prosecution's case after its presentation at trial for any lack of proof on any element of the DWI charge; and
● draft and argue post-trial motions and appeals challenging errors in the proceedings causing any adverse result while advising you of your best approach to managing all outcomes.
Addressing DWI Collateral Consequences
What makes a Texas DWI charge so difficult is often not so much the DWI felony or misdemeanor penalties in themselves but more so their collateral consequences. Your DWI Specialist defense attorney can also help you manage and mitigate a DWI charge's potentially severe collateral consequences. Your DWI Specialist defense attorney may help you with any or all of the following issues:
● communicating with parties and professionals supervising your child custody that you are aggressively defending the DWI charge so that it does not affect your child custody rights. Parties and professionals interested in the welfare and best interests of children will take seriously felony child endangerment DWI charges and even ordinary DWI charges, which could put your child custody at risk. Losing your child over a DWI could be worse than the criminal punishments;
● communicate with your employer's representatives to ensure that they do not terminate, suspend, or otherwise adversely affect your employment out of a misunderstanding of your DWI charges and your possibility of a DWI defense. You don't want to lose your job over your DWI arrest. Your DWI Specialist's assurances and explanations may go a long way toward helping you maintain your current employment;
● advising you about and representing you in administrative proceedings threatening discipline and even revocation of your professional, business, or trade license. Depending on the nature of your license and details of your alleged DWI offense, state licensing officials can take due concern over DWI convictions. Your DWI Specialist may help you avoid license suspension or revocation so that you can continue to earn a living;
● advising you about administrative proceedings relating to your firearms license, government or private security clearance, and airport or international clearance. A DWI conviction can result in your loss of those licenses and clearances, which may be essential to your employment and career or important to your other interests. Your DWI Specialist may be able to assist you in communicating and advocating with those officials about your DWI defense so that you do not lose what's important to you; and
● fighting, defending, and resolving your DWI charge so that it does not affect your visa or other immigration status. DWI convictions can, depending on their nature and details, cause the loss of a visa and cause deportation for a defendant who is not a U.S. citizen. Your DWI Specialist may, by successfully defending your DWI charge or resolving the charge on favorable terms, preserve your right and opportunity to maintain your U.S. residence.
Texas DWI Specialist for Felony DWI Charges
Premier Houston DWI Specialist Attorney Doug Murphy is available for your defense of felony Texas DWI charges. Attorney Murphy is a recognized DWI expert, lecturing nationwide to lawyers and judges on DWI defense. Attorney Murphy is one of only two Texas attorneys Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and in DWI Defense by the National College for DUI Defense. Trust attorney Murphy, whom Houston area lawyers voted the 2021 and 2023 Best Lawyers in America Houston Lawyer of the Year for DWI Defense. Call (713) 229-8333 or go online now for skilled and experienced Texas felony DWI defense representation.