Like most states, the punishment spelled out by the Texas Penal Code for a driving while intoxicated conviction can vary in severity. While a first-time offender will frequently face misdemeanor charges, there are several factors that can turn a DWI charge into a felony. An experienced criminal defense attorney can hold the state to their burden of proof.
Enhanced Penalties for DWI Convictions Under Texas Law
For most people, a first offense DWI will be charged as a misdemeanor. However, according to Section 49.09 of the Texas Penal Code, certain factors can aggravate even a first-time DWI and elevate it to a felony. These enhancing factors include prior convictions, intoxication assault, and intoxication manslaughter.
The most common factor that can enhance the penalties of a DWI is a history of prior convictions. If you have been convicted of driving while intoxicated, boating while intoxicated, flying while intoxicated, or with operating an amusement ride while intoxicated in the last five years you will face a harsher sentence than a first-time DWI conviction. If you have one previous conviction, the charge of DWI is increased from a Class B Misdemeanor to a Class A Misdemeanor. If you are a facing a third or subsequent offense, the charge will be enhanced to a third-degree felony.
For the purposes of enhanced penalties, any “while intoxicated” conviction can enhance the penalty of another. For example, If you have a conviction for flying while intoxicated a year ago and are subsequently charged with boating while intoxicated, you will face the enhanced penalties of a Class A misdemeanor due to your prior conviction.
Intoxication Assault is the crime of causing an accident that results in serious bodily injury to another person while you were intoxicated. According to the Texas Penal Code, a serious bodily injury is any injury that creates a substantial risk of death or an injury that causes severe permanent disfigurement or loss of a body organ. The charge often accompanies DWI and BWI charges that involved some kind of accident or collision.
Typically, intoxication assault is charged as a felony in the third degree. However, there are two circumstances where intoxication assault is enhanced:
- a felony of the second degree if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the person caused serious bodily injury to a firefighter or emergency medical services personnel while in the actual discharge of an official duty; or
- a felony of the first degree if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the person caused serious bodily injury to a peace officer or judge while the officer or judge was in the actual discharge of an official duty.
Intoxicated manslaughter occurs when your intoxicated driving leads to an accident that causes the accidental death of another. This charged is frequently involved in cases where a car wreck was caused by an intoxicated driver. Each person killed in the accident will lead to an additional charge of intoxication manslaughter. Intoxicated manslaughter is typically a felony in the second degree. However, intoxication manslaughter can be enhanced to a felony in the first degree if the person killed served as a peace officer, a firefighter, or emergency services personnel. According to the Texas Penal Code:
- Peace officer: a peace officer is any individual elected, employed, or appointed as a law enforcement officer. This includes sheriffs, marshals, police, airport police, city park officers, security officers, and rangers.
- Firefighter: a firefighter is any individual employed by the state who is subject to certification by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection or is a member of an organized volunteer fire-fighting unit that conducts at least two drills each month.
- Emergency medical services personnel: emergency medical personnel include any emergency medical technician, medical technician, or paramedic.
Defenses Related to Enhanced Penalties
Just like with the underlying case, it is the burden of the prosecutor to prove that you acted in a way that would enhance the charges you face. In addition to defenses that apply to most DWI cases, an experienced criminal defense attorney will hold the prosecutor to his or her burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that every element required to enhance a DWI penalty is met.
Many of the enhanced penalties require that the victim be a member of a protected class like a firefighter, peace officer, or emergency services personnel. These classes have very specific requirements that must be met, and your attorney may be able to show a jury that the alleged victims do not qualify. For example, a volunteer firefighter that volunteers for a volunteer unit that only drills once a month does not qualify as a firefighter. These small distinctions can make a difference in a potential sentence by a number of years. With so much at stake, these small details are best left to the trained eye of an experienced defense attorney.
Enhanced DWI Penalty Attorney in Odessa, Texas
Under Texas law, the penalties for alcohol-related crimes are steep. What's more, as the severity of the penalties you face only gets worse relative to the injuries suffered by the alleged victims. A drunken car wreck that would otherwise be a misdemeanor resulting in little to no jail time can quickly become a serious felony if another person is injured or killed in the accident.
E. Jason Leach is a criminal defense attorney that understands what is at stake when you are facing enhanced DWI charges. E. Jason Leach is a board-certified expert in the area of criminal defense law. His law practice is focused exclusively on defending those accused of crimes in the Odessa, Texas area. E. Jason Leach knows that prosecutors don't split their time practicing other types of law and believes that his exclusive focus on criminal law is advantageous to his clients.
A strong defense is your best chance of a favorable outcome at trial. To discuss your defense options, contact the Law Office of E. Jason Leach today to set up a free consultation.