Drunk driving is known as driving under the influence, or DUI, in many states. In the state of Texas it is known as driving while intoxicated, or DWI. Texas law imposes serious penalties for even a first conviction of DWI, including fines, jail time and license suspension.
Penalties increase with each subsequent DWI, so by the time a driver is arrested for a third DWI, they are facing a felony charge with the possibility of a high fine and a long stay in state prison. Anyone driving in Texas should have an understanding of the state's DWI laws, and this is particularly true for a driver facing a third DWI conviction.
Drinking or Drugging and Driving
Although most DWIs in Texas involve alcohol, it is also possible for a person to be arrested for a drug DWI – driving while under the influence of drugs. All that is necessary for a DWI conviction is proof that the person was operating a vehicle in Texas while their ordinary faculties were substantially impaired by alcohol or one or more of a variety of drugs that are classified as controlled substances.
When people talk about the legal limit in Texas, they are referring to another type of DWI charge. The statutes provide that, as an alternate to the impairment test, a person is deemed intoxicated if they are driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. This is also called a "per se" DWI, since proof of the BAC level is sufficient proof of impairment – no other evidence is required to prove intoxication. There is no similar legal limit for drugs in Texas, so every drug DWI charge requires additional proof of impairment or intoxication.
Third Time's the Felony Conviction
Third time's the charm does not apply to DWIs in Texas. In fact, one might say that the third time's the harm, since the first-time DWI and the second DWI are both charged as misdemeanors, the less serious type of crime in Texas. The maximum imprisonment possible for a misdemeanor is one year in county jail. But the third DWI in Texas is a felony DWI , a more serious crime, one that can send a driver to state prison. It can also impact their rights indefinitely since felons lose the right to own guns and are excluded from certain professions.
Some states set up a time frame that applies to second and third offenses. For example, sanctions would increase if a driver is convicted of a second offense within five years from the first offense, or a third DWI within 10 years from the second. But Texas does not do this. For example, if a driver had been convicted of two DWIs 30 years ago, and then another one yesterday, the latest DWI counts as the driver's third DWI in Texas.
Another important point is that Texas also makes it illegal for someone to operate a boat or an airplane while intoxicated, so a conviction of boating or flying while intoxicated will be counted as a prior DWI. That is, if an individual had one prior conviction for boating while intoxicated and one for flying an airplane while intoxicated, a first vehicle DWI conviction will be treated as a third conviction.
Administrative Penalties for a Third Texas DWI
In Texas, there are both administrative penalties and criminal penalties for a driving offense. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) imposes administrative penalties after an arrest, but well before the driver is convicted of the DWI charge in court. The most significant administrative penalty is suspension of the individual's driving privileges. For a third DWI offense, the license will be suspended for between 180 days and two years.
This process begins at the time of the arrest. The arresting officer takes away the driver's license and gives them a Notice of Suspension that can be used to drive for a limited amount of time. During that time, the individual can request a hearing at the DMV before an administrative law judge to argue against the driver's license suspension. If no such hearing is requested within the time limit, the administrative suspension goes into effect immediately. If a hearing is held and the driver loses, the suspension is imposed at that time.
The DMV is also responsible for administrative suspensions when a driver refuses to submit to a breathalyzer or other chemical test. In Texas, all drivers are deemed to have given their consent to take a chemical test if requested by the police after a DWI arrest. Refusal to take the test is itself a crime, and one of the punishments is an administrative license suspension.
Criminal Penalties for a Third DWI
In Texas, a driver gets the same core DWI penalties for a third offense as for earlier ones, including fines, imprisonment and/or probation, and license suspension. But for the third conviction, the fines, prison time and period of license suspension are increased. A person convicted of a third DWI can be punished by a fine of up to $10,000, up to 10 years in state prison and a two-year driver license suspension.
These consequences seem severe, and they are, but a judge has considerable leeway in determining the actual sentence. The fine can be $10,000, but it can also be much less. The prison sentence cannot be longer than 10 years, but it can be as little as two years, and even this is somewhat misleading since the court can decide to order probation for a good part of the two-year jail sentence. However, the driver is required by law to spend a minimum of 10 days in prison.
Conditions of Bond
In order to be released from jail pending the DWI trial, the driver will have to post a bond. This constitutes another monetary penalty, and the bond usually comes with some conditions. The Texas judge will require the driver to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on every vehicle they own or drive regularly. This device incorporates a breathalyzer that the driver must blow into before the car will start. If the IID detects any alcohol, it will not allow the car to start.
For a third DWI, the court is also likely to order the driver to stop drinking and cease using controlled substances without a medical prescription while the case is pending. This can be enforced by random drug testing.
Aggravating Circumstances in the DWI
These consequences can become worse if there were aggravating circumstances involved in the DWI arrest. These can range from the officer discovering an open container of alcohol in the vehicle to the driver having a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher. Both of these factors increase penalties.
If the driver has a child passenger in the car under the age of 15 at the time of the arrest, it is considered child endangerment, in and of itself a felony. If the driver's intoxication results in serious bodily harm to another individual or results in their death, the charge will be intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter, both of which are felonies that carry severe penalties.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.