Misdemeanor turned felony nets repeat DWI driver 8 years

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Tarrant County prosecutors dusted off a decade-old, unused state law in the recent trial of an alleged drunk, unsafe driver. The Fort Worth defendant was drunk and drugged when he smashed into a parked vehicle and set off a multi-vehicle, non-injury car accident.

Physical damage was extensive, but no one was hurt in the December 2010 crash. The district attorney's office was not satisfied that the DWI repeat offender could get off with a misdemeanor.

Attorneys dug into the defendant's criminal history and found records of a 1998 accident in Dallas and a conviction for intoxication manslaughter. The driver, who was 20-years-old at the time, was fleeing from police and drunk when he plowed into the side of a seminary student's car. The student was killed and two other accident victims in the student's car were injured. The underage drinker was given no jail time and sentenced to 10 years of probation.

In most cases, a felony DWI is reserved for repeat offenders with two prior convictions. The Texas law prosecutors found that it permitted a felony charge after just one conviction, if the offender was guilty of a previous charge of intoxication manslaughter.

The prosecution's discovery of the old law quickly elevated the defendant's charges and the potential maximum punishment, from a possible prison term of six, short months to a full 10-year sentence. A jury did not go with the maximum sentence. It ordered an eight-year prison term for the Fort Worth defendant. It was the first time the 10-year-old law had ever been tested in a Tarrant County trial.

Without the application of the Texas law for intoxication manslaughter, the DWI repeat offender might have walked away with a short stint in jail, a fine and the chance to drive drunk again.

Prosecuting attorneys agreed the punishment was severe, but argued that the defendant had not learned from the mistakes he made 15 years ago. The lead prosecutor said keeping hardcore, repeat drunk drivers off community roadways may be the only way to keep other drivers safe.

Source: myfoxdfw.com, "Fort Worth Man Gets 8 Years for DWI," Lari Barager, April 12, 2012