In all 50 states, it is against the law to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A DWI (sometimes known by other acronyms) happens when someone drives with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08% or higher. Other drugs have different amounts, and underage drivers with any alcohol in their system can be charged with DWI.

The severity of a DWI charge depends on a number of factors in order to determine what fines, jail time and other penalties come afterward. Some offenses are only misdemeanors, while others are felonies.

According to Randall Isenberg, in Texas, the laws for determining whether or not someone is DUI are fairly standard between states. But the rules for judging whether a drunk driving incident is a felony or not can quite different depending on the state.

  • Some states determine the seriousness of the charge based on the number of offenses within a range of years. Other states will measure the number of DWI offenses which have occurred over an individual’s entire lifetime.
  • Any time that there is an injury or death related to an incident of DWI, it can turn into a felony DWI. That person may be a member of your family in the vehicle with you, in another vehicle, or a pedestrian
  • An injury can be considered ‘serious’ if stitches are required, bones are broken, or if someone was burned or in some way incapacitated or killed as a result of a DWI accident.
  • While each state has its own set of penalties for Felony DWI, the range across the United States is between 1 – 20 years in prison.

If someone dies in a DWI accident, the person charged with DWI may also be charged with murder. California, Alabama, and North Carolina are all states where a DWI driver can be additionally charged with murder.

Additional considerations in a DWI felony can also be leveled if a driver has contraband substances, weapons, or children within the vehicle. Some states have a minimum mandatory jail sentence for driving with a child or children in the car. Each of these factors can create a felony out of what may have been just a DWI charge – even if it’s the first offense.

With the help of a DWI lawyer, it’s often possible to get a misdemeanor for a first-time DWI offense, assuming it wasn’t a horrendous accident. But the penalties for even misdemeanor DWI are bad enough. Once it reaches the felony stage, DWI will affect you for the rest of your life. Beyond the general penalties for being a felon, a felony DWI can make it very difficult to gain employment or to follow certain careers.