In Texas, a third DWI is a felony and carries serious penalties. This article covers some of the basics of Texas's DWI laws and the consequences of a third offense conviction.
You can be convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas if you operate a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated. "Intoxicated" means being actually impaired or having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more (called a "per se" DWI).
There is no criminal penalty "lookback period" in Texas—meaning any prior DUI or BUI (boating under the influence) conviction, no matter how old will count in determining what's a third offense. So a DWI is considered a third offense in Texas if the driver has two prior convictions in his or her lifetime.
A third DWI in Texas carries two to ten years in state prison.
However, sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a "minimum" jail sentence that's longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior, "suspended" sentences, and jail-alternative work programs.
Fines cannot exceed $10,000, but a variety of fees and "penalty assessments" will significantly increase the amount you actually pay.
Convicted motorists also face up to two years of probation and having to complete a DWI education class, a substance abuse evaluation and/or rehabilitation program, 160 to 600 hours of community service, and possibly having to attend a DWI Impact Panel.
As a condition of release from jail, the judge will make you install an ignition interlock device on any vehicle you drive while your charges are pending, and you will not be allowed to drive any vehicle without an interlock for one year following the reinstatement of your license.
If you're lawfully arrested in Texas for DWI within ten years of a previous alcohol or drug-related "enforcement contact" (like a prior DWI or refusal to submit to chemical testing) the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can impose enhanced driver's license suspensions and fees—regardless of whether you're ultimately convicted of a DUI.
When you fail or refuse a chemical test (see below), the arresting agency will confiscate your license, and you have 15 days from the date of arrest to contest the suspension. If you don't notify the DMV within this timeframe that you want to contest the suspension, your license will remain suspended for 12 months starting the 41st day after your arrest.
If you fail a chemical test (have a BAC of .08% or more), your suspension will be for one year. If, on the other hand, you refuse a test in violation of Texas's implied consent laws, the DMV will automatically suspend your license for two years. The DMV suspension will be set aside only if you are ultimately acquitted of DWI in criminal court.
If you have not received any previous alcohol-related license suspensions within the preceding five years, you are immediately eligible for an "occupational license." An occupation license is for driving only to and from places like work, school, and places necessary to accomplish essential household duties. If you have received a license suspension within the preceding five years for a drug- or alcohol-related contact with law enforcement, there's an initial 90-day "hard suspension" period during which you won't be able to drive at all. And if one of your prior law enforcement contacts was within the preceding five years, your hard suspension increases to 180 days. Additionally, an occupational license is only available once in a 10-year period.
For a third offense, Texas also imposes an annual DMV license surcharge of $1,000 to $2,000 per year for three years.
The DWI laws in Texas are complicated, and the facts of each case are different. If you've been arrested or charged with a DWI, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area who can help you decide how best to proceed with your case.