Is a DUI a Felony in Texas?

Is a DUI a Felony in Texas?

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in Texas, with significant legal consequences. But is a DUI a felony in Texas? The answer depends on several factors, including prior offenses, the presence of aggravating circumstances, and the specific details of the case. This article will provide an in-depth look at when a DUI becomes a felony in Texas, the legal process involved, and the penalties one might face. You can also read this Is Dumpster Diving in Texas Illegal?

Understanding DUI Laws in Texas

What Constitutes a DUI?

In Texas, a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) is typically referred to as DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). The terms are often used interchangeably, but legally, DWI is the correct term in Texas. A person is considered legally intoxicated if they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, or if they are impaired by drugs or alcohol to a degree that makes them incapable of operating a vehicle safely.

First Offense DWI: Misdemeanor

For most individuals, a first-time DWI offense is classified as a Class B misdemeanor. If the offender’s BAC is 0.15% or higher, the charge may be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor. Penalties for a first offense typically include fines, community service, mandatory alcohol education classes, and a possible jail sentence of up to 180 days.

When Does a DUI Become a Felony in Texas?

Second and Third Offenses

A second DWI offense is usually classified as a Class A misdemeanor, but a third DWI offense becomes a felony. Specifically, a third DWI is considered a third-degree felony, which carries more severe penalties.

Aggravating Circumstances

Certain aggravating circumstances can elevate a DWI to a felony, even for first or second-time offenders. These circumstances include:

  1. DWI with a Child Passenger: Driving while intoxicated with a passenger under the age of 15 is considered a state jail felony, regardless of whether it is the driver’s first offense.
  2. Intoxication Assault: If a person causes serious bodily injury to another while driving under the influence, the offense is classified as a third-degree felony.
  3. Intoxication Manslaughter: If a person causes the death of another while driving under the influence, the offense is classified as a second-degree felony.

Legal Process for Felony DWI

When charged with a felony DWI, the legal process becomes more complex. It typically involves an arrest, arraignment, and multiple court appearances. Defendants have the right to a jury trial, and the prosecution must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Due to the severity of the charges, it is crucial to have experienced legal representation.

Penalties for Felony DWI in Texas

Third-Degree Felony

A third-degree felony DWI can result in:

  • Prison Time: Between 2 to 10 years in state prison.
  • Fines: Up to $10,000.
  • License Suspension: License suspension for up to 2 years.
  • Community Service: Mandatory community service hours.
  • Probation: Court-ordered probation with strict conditions.

State Jail Felony

A state jail felony, such as DWI with a child passenger, can result in:

  • State Jail Time: Between 180 days to 2 years in a state jail facility.
  • Fines: Up to $10,000.
  • License Suspension: License suspension for up to 180 days.

Second-Degree Felony

A second-degree felony, such as intoxication manslaughter, can result in:

  • Prison Time: Between 2 to 20 years in state prison.
  • Fines: Up to $10,000.
  • License Suspension: License suspension for up to 2 years.
  • Community Service: Mandatory community service hours.

Defending Against a Felony DWI Charge

Legal Representation

Hiring an experienced attorney is crucial when facing felony DWI charges. A skilled lawyer can evaluate the evidence, challenge the prosecution’s case, and work towards reducing the charges or securing a favorable plea deal.

Possible Defenses

Several defenses can be used in a felony DWI case, including:

  • Challenging the Traffic Stop: Questioning the legality of the traffic stop that led to the arrest.
  • Questioning BAC Results: Challenging the accuracy and reliability of breathalyzer or blood test results.
  • Field Sobriety Test Issues: Highlighting issues or inaccuracies in the administration of field sobriety tests.

Plea Bargains and Alternative Sentencing

In some cases, it may be possible to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution. This could involve pleading guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a reduced sentence. Additionally, alternative sentencing options such as alcohol treatment programs or community supervision may be available.

Long-Term Consequences of a Felony DWI

Criminal Record

A felony DWI conviction results in a permanent criminal record, which can impact various aspects of a person’s life, including employment opportunities, housing, and the right to vote or own firearms.

Financial Impact

Beyond fines and legal fees, a felony DWI conviction can lead to increased insurance premiums, loss of income due to incarceration, and other financial burdens.

Personal and Professional Consequences

A felony DWI conviction can strain personal relationships and affect professional reputation and career opportunities. It may also result in the loss of professional licenses or certifications.

Preventing DUI in Texas

Understanding the Risks

Understanding the risks and consequences of driving under the influence can help prevent DUIs. Education and awareness programs play a vital role in reducing drunk driving incidents.

Safe Alternatives

Utilizing safe alternatives to driving while intoxicated, such as designated drivers, ride-sharing services, or public transportation, can prevent DUIs and save lives.

Legal Limits and Responsible Drinking

Being aware of legal BAC limits and practicing responsible drinking habits can significantly reduce the risk of a DUI. Knowing when to stop drinking and arranging alternative transportation plans in advance are crucial steps.


So, is a DUI a felony in Texas? It can be, depending on the circumstances. While a first-time DWI is generally a misdemeanor, subsequent offenses or the presence of aggravating factors can elevate the charge to a felony. Understanding the legal process, potential penalties, and long-term consequences is crucial for anyone facing a felony DWI charge in Texas. Preventing DUI through education, responsible drinking, and utilizing safe alternatives is essential to ensuring the safety of all Texans on the road.