How “Habitual DWI Offender” Status Can Mean A Life Sentence

The first time a person is convicted of a DWI in Texas, it is usually treated as a Class B misdemeanor. This means the maximum penalty the defendant faces is between 3 and 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine, and a 1-year suspension of their driver’s license. A subsequent DWI conviction is treated as a Class A misdemeanor, which essentially doubles the Class B penalties.

A third DWI charge, however, is usually prosecuted as a third-degree felony. Now we are talking about serious jail time. The punishment range for a third-degree felony in Texas is between 2 and 10 years, in addition to a possible $10,000 fine. On top of that, if the defendant has any other prior felony convictions unrelated to the DWI, prosecutors may seek “habitual offender” status.

Defendant Receives 25 Years for 3rd DWI Due To Prior Felony Convictions

What does that mean? In simple terms, a habitual DWI offender receives a much harsher sentence than an ordinary defendant. To demonstrate, here is a recent case from the Texas Second District Court of Appeals, Haught v. State. Prosecutors, in this case, charged the defendant with third-degree felony DWI. As noted above, this typically carries a sentence of between 2 and 10 years in prison.

However, the prosecution then introduced evidence indicating the defendant had two prior felony convictions. The first conviction was for felony burglary in 1996. The second conviction was in 2007 for participating in a “methamphetamine-related conspiracy.”

Under the Texas habitual offender law, one prior conviction would increase the defendant’s maximum possible sentence for the felony DWI from 10 to 20 years. Two prior convictions would increase the overall range from 2 to 10 years to 25 to 99 years. Accordingly, the state sought the latter enhancement.

The defendant conceded that the 1996 conviction could be applied. But he challenged the inclusion of the 2007 conviction. The wording of the law states that a second conviction only applies if it involved “an offense that occurred subsequent to the first previous conviction having become final.” Here, the defense maintained that the prosecution could not prove the meth “conspiracy,” the subject of the 2007 conviction, began after his 1996 burglary conviction became final. Therefore, the state could only apply one prior felony conviction to his DWI sentence and not both.

The trial court disagreed. It held that the evidence was sufficient to show the 2007 conviction occurred after the 1996 conviction became final. Applying both prior felonies, the judge sentenced the defendant to 25 years on the felony DWI charge. The Second District subsequently affirmed the conviction and sentence.

Contact Houston DWI Attorney Tad A. Nelson Today

Texas prosecutors will never hesitate to throw the book at a drunk driving suspect. And as the case above illustrates, a felony DWI charge can lead to decades in prison depending on a defendant’s prior criminal record. That is why anytime you are facing such allegations; you need to work with an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney. If you need to speak with a lawyer, call Houston DWI Lawyer Tad A. Nelson today.