Most DWIs in Texas are misdemeanor offenses, but under the Texas Penal Code, Section 49, there are many ways for a DWI charge to be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony, including offenses such as repeated DWIs, DWI with a child passenger, and DWI resulting in serious bodily injury or death.
Any DWI (driving while intoxicated, also known as drunk driving or DUI) charge is serious, but the consequences of a felony DWI conviction in Denton County, Texas, are much more severe than a misdemeanor. The penalties for a felony DWI conviction may include the loss of certain rights, such as the right to vote or own a gun. A felony DWI conviction may also present major roadblocks to educational and professional opportunities.
Other collateral consequences of a felony drunk driving conviction are expensive “DWI surcharges” that Texas imposes for three years. Offenders are also usually required to install an ignition interlock device. Any person convicted of a DWI felony will also be slapped with astronomical car insurance rates. It all adds up to a legal hangover that may continue for many years.
Felony DWI Defense Lawyer in Denton, Frisco, Lewisville, Flower Mound, TX
If you are facing a felony DWI charge anywhere in Denton County, Texas, you should contact a local criminal defense lawyer experienced in DWI cases as soon as possible.
The DWI attorneys at the Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy remind you that important deadlines loom soon after a felony DWI arrest. For example, you only have 15 days to request an administrative driver’s license suspension hearing to retain your driving privileges if you either failed or refused to submit to a chemical test for alcohol.
Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy represents DUI clients in Denton, Frisco, Lewisville, Flower Mound, and surrounding areas of Denton County, Texas. Contact us today at (940) 222-8004 so we can review your case and explain your options during a free, confidential consultation with one of our skilled DWI attorneys.
Types of Felony DWI in Texas
The section of the Texas statutes that addresses the “basic” crime of Driving While Intoxicated is the Texas Penal Code Ann., Title 10, Chapter 49.04, which states: “a person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.”
A DWI may become a felony charge if certain other things occur while allegedly driving drunk, such as:
- DWI with a Child Passenger (when a person operates a motor vehicle while intoxicated and has a passenger who is less than 15 years old) is a state jail felony (Texas Penal Code § 49.045));
- Intoxication Assault (when serious bodily injury results by accident or mistake while operating a motor vehicle, aircraft, or watercraft or as a result of operating or assembling a mobile amusement ride while intoxicated) is a third-degree felony (Texas P.C. § 49.07)). If a person causes serious bodily injury to a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel while on official duty, a second-degree felony (Texas P.C. § 49.09(b-1));
- Intoxication Manslaughter (when death results by accident or mistake while operating a motor vehicle, aircraft, or watercraft or as a result of operating or assembling a mobile amusement ride while intoxicated) is a second-degree felony (Texas P.C. § 49.08)). If a person causes death to a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel while on official duty, a first-degree felony (Texas P.C. § 49.09(b-2)); or
A person has previously been convicted:
- One time of an offense under § 49.08 (intoxication manslaughter) or an offense under the laws of another state if the offense contains elements that are substantially similar to the elements of an offense under § 49.08 (Texas P.C. § 49.09(b)(1)); or
- Two times of any other offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, operating an aircraft while intoxicated, operating a watercraft while intoxicated, or operating or assembling an amusement ride while intoxicated (Texas P.C. § 49.09(b)(2)).
Note: The police, sheriff, or Texas Highway Patrol officers may use chemical tests, including breath tests, blood tests, and urine tests, as well as field sobriety tests, to determine a person’s intoxication level. A person may refuse to take a DUI test, unless the police obtain a warrant, however, the refusal of a test will result in an automatic administrative driver’s license suspension, which may be appealed.
(Results of field sobriety tests are generally inadmissible in court, but results of blood, breath, or urine tests properly conducted under certain specific conditions may be admissible.)
Definitions of Terms Related to Felony DWI in Texas
Several terms related to Felony DWI are defined in the Texas statutes, including intoxicated, alcohol concentration, motor vehicle, watercraft, and amusement ride.
Under Texas P.C. § 49.01(2), “Intoxicated” means:
- “Not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or
- Having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.”
Under Texas P.C. § 49.01(1), “alcohol concentration” (also known as blood-alcohol concentration, or BAC) means the number of grams of alcohol per:
- 210 liters of breath
- 100 milliliters of blood, or
- 67 milliliters of urine.”
“Motor vehicle” is defined as “a device in, on, or by which a person is or may be transported or drawn on a highway, except a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks” (Texas P.C. §§ 32.34(a) and 49.01(3)).
“Watercraft” means “a vessel, one or more water skis, an aquaplane, or another device used for transporting or carrying a person on water, other than a device propelled only by the current of water (Texas P.C. § 49.01(4)).
“Amusement ride” means “a mechanical device that carries passengers along, around, or over a fixed or restricted course or within a defined area for the purpose of giving the passengers amusement, pleasure, or excitement,” although certain rides are excluded (See Texas Occupational Code, Title 13, Subtitle D, § 2151.002).
Criminal Penalties for a Felony DWI Conviction in Texas
Felony DWI convictions regularly result in prison or jail time, along with costly fines. Depending on the charges, these penalties may include:
- State Jail Felony: A sentence of between 180 days to two years in jail, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
- Third-degree felony: Punishable by between two to 10 years in prison, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
- Second-degree felony: Punishable by between two to 20 years behind prison bars, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
- First-degree felony: A mandatory prison sentence of at least five years, with a maximum of 99 years or life, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
A person convicted of felony DWI is also routinely subjected to driver’s license suspensions, mandatory attendance at a felony DUI school, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, counseling, probation, and/or the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). The IID prevents a person from operating a vehicle until he or she submits to a breath test for alcohol.
Civil Consequences of Felony DWI in Texas
In addition to a prison sentence and the steep fines and loss of rights that result from a felony DWI conviction, the State of Texas piles on with additional civil (administrative) consequences.
These consequences may include suspension of a driver’s license, mandated DWI classes for repeat offenders and expensive annual DWI surcharges in order to maintain a driver’s license after a DWI suspension is lifted. Insurance companies also charge higher rates for drivers with a felony DWI conviction.
Felony DWI Driver’s License Suspension
It is important to note that a person who is arrested for DWI in Texas will receive an automatic driver’s license suspension. The suspension may be appealed, but only within 15 days of the arrest. Therefore, it is vital that you consult with an attorney in order to schedule an administrative hearing and try to avoid a license suspension.
According to the Texas Transportation Code, § 521.344, a person’s driver’s license may be suspended after a conviction for any DWI offense. The suspension begins no earlier than the date of conviction and no later than the 30th day after conviction (although an administrative suspension may take effect sooner if not appealed or if appealed and the appeal is denied).
The mandated time periods for a driver’s license suspension for felony DWI offense convictions include:
- First DWI with a Child Passenger — 90 days to one year
- Repeat Felony DWI Offenses — 180 days to two years
- Repeat Felony DWI Offenses (within five years of a preceding offense) — One to two years
- First Intoxication Assault — 90 days to one year
- Second or Subsequent Intoxication Assault (within five years of a preceding offense) — 90 days to one year plus an additional one year
- First Intoxication Manslaughter — 180 days to two years
- Second or Subsequent Intoxication Manslaughter (within 10 years of a preceding offense) — One to two years
Texas DWI Repeat Offender Program
For repeat offenders, attendance at an alcohol or drug education program is required after a conviction for a third or subsequent DWI in Texas. Failure to attend a mandated repeat offender class will result in the revocation of a driver’s license until the program is completed (Texas P.C. § 42.12(13)(j)).
The intensive repeat offender class typically consists of 32 hours of instruction designed as an intervention method for people who abuse alcohol or controlled substances, while encouraging them to enter treatment, if necessary, in order to prevent further alcohol or substance abuse problems.
Texas DWI Surcharges
The State of Texas assesses a mandatory annual surcharge to be paid to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) for three years as a condition for maintaining a driver’s license for any person convicted of DWI (once a person’s driver’s license is reinstated).
For people convicted of felony DWI, these surcharges are $2,000 per year for three years (a total of $6,000), the highest rate allowed under the law.
Resources for Felony DWI in Texas
Texas Constitution and Statutes, Penal Code Ann., Title 10, Chapter 49 — Read the Texas statutes related to the state’s intoxication laws and penalties that can result from a conviction, including felony driving while intoxicated offenses in Texas and the potential penalties for a conviction.
Texas Department of State Health Services Offender Education Programs — Find approved DWI offender education courses at this link, provided by the Texas DSHS. The programs are available to DWI offenders who have been ordered by a court to attend an approved alcohol or substance abuse education course.
Denton County District Clerk — Find access to criminal records and felony criminal case information, miscellaneous court information and resources about the justice system throughout Denton County. The criminal courts are located at:
Denton County Courts Building
1450 E. McKinney St.
Denton, Texas 76209
Phone: (940) 349-2200
Find A Denton County Defense Attorney for Felony DWI Charges | Law Office of Richard C. McConathy
If you were arrested on a felony DWI charge anywhere in Denton County, Texas, or the surrounding areas, contact the Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy today to schedule a free initial consultation about your alleged felony drinking and driving offense.
The experienced DWI attorneys at the Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy will make every effort to help you avoid the most serious penalties and repercussions of a felony DWI charge. We serve clients in Denton, Frisco, Lewisville, Flower Mound, and surrounding areas of Denton County, Texas.
We may be able to find problems with the prosecution’s case, flaws in any tests that were conducted, or with the arrest itself, which may result in a reduction or dismissal of charges. You have little time to lose in order to retain your driving privileges, so contact the Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy today at (940) 222-8004 about your case.