Each state in the U.S. has different DWI and DUI laws. In some states even a first-time DWI can be a felony, while in others, a third DWI may still be a misdemeanor. In the state of Texas, a first DWI conviction is (barring aggravating circumstances) a Class B Misdemeanor, a second DWI conviction is a Class A Misdemeanor, and a third DWI conviction makes it into the felony category—a 3rd degree felony. The penalty for a Class B misdemeanor is a maximum of six months in jail and a fine as large as $2,000 while the penalty for a Class Q misdemeanor is up to one year in jail and a fine as large as $4,000—still very serious consequences If, however, any of the following circumstances are present with any DWI, it can be charged as a felony:
- If the driver accused of DWI had a child in the vehicle who was younger than 15 years old (a potential sentence of up to two years and not less than 180 days in state jail and a maximum fine of $10,000).
- If the DWI offense (even a first-offense DWI) resulted in an accident which caused serious bodily injury or serious disfigurement to another person, the offense could be charged as a 3rd degree felony. The offense is known as an intoxication assault, carrying a penalty of up to ten years in jail and a fine as large as $10,000. At a minimum, there will be at least 160 hours and not more than 600 hours of community service for an intoxication assault conviction.
- Intoxication manslaughter charges (a 2nd degree felony) could result when a death occurs as the result of a DWI accident (even a first-offense DWI). The penalties for an intoxication manslaughter conviction include two to twenty years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. If intoxication manslaughter charges result in probation, it is still required that a 120-day jail sentence is served. Further, if the vehicle was driven in a manner which made it a “deadly weapon,” an additional penalty prohibiting good time credit in prison until half the sentence has been satisfied is a part of the sentencing.
Many people are unaware that not only is it illegal to drive while impaired in the state of Texas, it is also illegal to drive with an open container of alcohol in your vehicle. If the officer finds an open container of alcohol in your vehicle—even one that is empty—you could have jail time added to the minimum of the sentence you receive for your DWI offense.
While a misdemeanor conviction can have negative effects on your future, a felony conviction can exponentially increase those effects and consequences. You could find it difficult to obtain employment, particularly with a governmental agency or private business which deals with classified information. You could be unable to obtain a government student loan to continue your education, or impossible to obtain a professional license. In short, you could face the negative effects of a DWI felony or misdemeanor conviction for many, many years to come.
If you are in need of legal assistance following a DWI arrest in the state of Texas, you could benefit from the services of a well-qualified Houston DWI attorney. The Houston law firm of Sullo & Sullo handles cases associated with DWI in the Harris County area.