In September 2017, a 72-year-old driver in Brazos County pulled out in front of another vehicle, causing a collision. When police responded to the crash, the driver admitted he had been drinking, and testing showed him over the legal limit. Three months later, a jury convicted him of DWI.
At the man's sentencing in February 2020, the judge handed down a 15-year prison sentence. The reason cited? It was the driver's seventeenth DWI conviction.
If you understand Texas DWI law, you know this driver got off easy with a 15-year sentence. Texas law is remarkably stern toward recidivist (repeat) DWI offenders. The penalties for first and second DWI offenses are strict enough; but once you reach three or more offenses, you'll definitely need the help of a good attorney because you're now in felony territory, and the stakes just got much higher.
Possible Penalties for Recidivist DWI in Texas
Although Texas law effectively stops counting DWI convictions at “three or more,” the law is still structured so the possible criminal penalties get progressively more severe with each conviction. Here's a quick overview of how it works:
- Third DWI offense: a third-degree felony, 2-10 years in prison--if convicted
- Third or more DWI with one prior prison sentence: a second-degree felony, 2-20 years in prison--if convicted
- Third or more DWI with two prior prison sentences: enhanced felony, 25 years to life in prison--if convicted.
Bear in mind that all of these categories also include license suspension and fines up to $10,000, and these charges can also be enhanced by circumstances such as open container, injuries or death to others.
As you can see above, all those punishment scenarios are IF you are convicted. Because Texas incorporates prior prison terms into the equation, you have the potential of getting life in prison by even the third DWI conviction, depending on how many sentences you've served previously. (That's why we said the Brazos County driver got off easy for his 17th DWI conviction.) If you have two prior felony convictions of any type, your third DWI could land you in prison for life as a "habitual offender."
Aside from the possibility of extended prison time, having multiple DWI convictions can complicate your life in other ways, as well—not the least of which is the fact that law enforcement may view you with heightened suspicion even on routine traffic stops. Take, for example, the Arizona driver who was pulled over last month for not wearing a seat belt. The officer noticed the smell of alcohol and observed an open container of whisky, which the driver said belonged to his brother who had driven the car earlier in the day. Although his breathalyzer test actually came in below the legal limit, the driver was still arrested on probable cause of DWI—no doubt because of the six prior DWI convictions the officer saw when running his driver's license.
Despite these issues, getting your third or more DWI arrest isn't an automatic guarantee of prison time. However, you'll certainly want an experienced DWI Specialist attorney to help you navigate the complicated path ahead and help you get the best possible outcome. Doug Murphy is Board Certified in Criminal and DWI defense. Contact our office today for a free case evaluation.