When Can Your First DWI Be a Felony?
DWI charges are always a serious issue. In addition to jail time and fines, you could be subjected to other penalties of varying severity. Most first-time DWI charges are misdemeanor offenses; however, this isn’t always the case. The law has provisions for extreme circumstances or the presence of aggravating factors that could cause a first-time arrestee to be charged with a felony crime. Felony DWI charges come with harsher sentences, and have more consequences than a misdemeanor offense. When can you be charged with a felony for a first offense? Let’s take a look at what Texas Law says.
According to CDC statistics reported by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, between 2000 and 2009, nearly 2,500 kids under the age of 15 were killed in car accidents where the driver was intoxicated. That doesn’t include the thousands more who were injured. In response, legislators passed Texas Penal Code Section 49.045, entitled “DWI with Child Passenger,” which makes it a felony crime to operate a vehicle while intoxicated and with a child under the age of 15 in the car.
DWIs that result in an injury fall under Penal Code Section 49.07, which subjects the driver to felony drunk driving charges. Otherwise known as “intoxication assault,” this crime is a state felony, and will be charged regardless of intent. However, the driver must have caused “serious bodily injury,” which can sometimes be up for debate. In instances where law enforcement suspects that alcohol played a role in the accident, the suspect will be forced to have blood drawn.
Under Penal Code Section 49.08, anyone who kills someone else by driving while intoxicated will face felony charges for their actions. This is the least common felony DWI charge, but it can carry the heaviest penalties. It’s not uncommon for these charges to land you several years in prison, in addition to large fines and other consequences. Like intoxication assault charges, these also mandate a forced blood draw.
One Other Case
There is one other instance in Texas state law in which you could be charged with a Felony DWI, but it’s not possible to get as a first-time offender. That’s because anyone who is charged with their third DWI will automatically be charged with a felony offense. Unlike other states, Texas has no lookback period, meaning any prior convictions can contribute to your history, including out-of-state charges.