Many motorists in Texas don’t think of traffic infractions as serious crimes, but the state certainly does. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges in Texas are among the most serious traffic infractions, both because of how Texas law treats this offense and because of impaired driving’s association with tragic outcomes.
Unlike many other traffic violations, a DWI is a criminal offense rather than a civil infraction. While there may be a cost associated with a violation, an alleged offender cannot just pay a ticket and move on with their life. They will either need to plead guilty in criminal court or go to trial to defend against DWI charges.
Oftentimes, people choose to plead guilty because they believe it is the easiest solution. What they may not realize is that they may end up saddled with a lifetime criminal record and various criminal penalties imposed by a judge. In some cases, those penalties will be more severe because the state pursues felony charges instead of misdemeanor charges. When is a DWI offense a felony under Texas law?
When there is a young passenger
Under Texas state law, prosecutors can pursue special charges when an impaired motorist has a passenger age 14 or younger in their vehicle at the time of their arrest. Allegations of child endangerment can aggravate a basic DWI charge and enhance the penalties that the courts may impose. Those charges will not only turn up during background checks but might eventually also influence how the courts rule in a custody matter in the future.
When someone has multiple prior offenses
Basic DWI charges related to a breath test or erratic driving will usually be misdemeanor offenses. However, someone who has repeatedly violated impaired driving laws can anticipate the courts imposing stricter penalties in the future. A second offense carries worse consequences than a first. A third offense will likely be a felony charge in addition to carrying heightened penalties. The state can sentence someone to up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. The state can also pursue different charges related to vehicular assault or manslaughter if an impaired motorist causes a crash that injures or kills someone else.
Understanding how the state handles drunk driving charges may help people better weigh their options when preparing a response to a recent arrest.