Driving While Intoxicated or DWI is a serious issue throughout Texas and the United States. According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), 1,555 alcohol related crashes occurred in Tarrant County, alone, in 2015. Of those DWI crashes, 37 fatalities, 122 incapacitating injuries, and 310 non-incapacitating injuries occurred.

Due to the high risk of death and traumatic injuries related to DWI, Texas law imposes tough penalties, including jail time, steep fines, alcohol awareness courses, license suspension, and installation of an interlock ignition device. But did you know life imprisonment is a possible penalty in certain DWI cases?

Texas Man Sentenced to Life Imprisonment for DWI

In June of 2016, a Montgomery County judge sentenced a Texas man, Donald Middleton, to life imprisonment in connection with his ninth DWI conviction. Middleton was arrested on May 30, 2015, for DWI after he caused a car accident and attempted to flee the scene.

According to witness reports and surveillance video, Middleton hit a 16-year old motorist head-on while attempting to make a right turn. After hitting the motorist, Middleton fled to a nearby gas station and asked the store clerk to hide him. The store clerk refused and Middleton was later arrested.

On the day Middleton’s criminal case was set to proceed to trial, he pled guilty to DWI. After three days of punishment testimony, a Texas judge sentenced him to life imprisonment.

While life imprisonment is not a typical penalty for DWI, this was Middleton’s ninth DWI since 1980. The judge, in that case, believed his frequent, repeat DWIs indicated Middleton could not be rehabilitated and should be separated from society for the remainder of his life.

Penalties for DWI Conviction in Tarrant County, Texas

First-Time DWI: Under Texas Penal Code § 49.04 an individual may be convicted of driving while intoxicated or DWI if he or she is intoxicated while in operation of a motor vehicle in a public place.

A first-time DWI without property damage, injury, death, or open alcohol container is considered a Class B misdemeanor. A first-time DWI requires confinement for at least 72 hours and is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of no more than $2,000. The driver’s license is suspended for up to 1 year and an annual fee of $1,000 or $2,000 for 3 years is required to retain a driver’s license.

Repeat DWI: The criminal consequences for DWI increase with each subsequent DWI. Generally, a second DWI is considered a Class A misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 30 to 365 days in jail and a fine of no more than $4,000.

The driver’s license is suspended for up to 2 years. The driver is also required to pay an annual fee of $1,000, $1,500, or $2,000 for 3 years to retain a driver’s license.

A third DWI is considered a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony is punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The driver’s license is suspended for up to 2 years. The driver is also required to pay an annual fee of $1,000, $1,500, or $2,000 for 3 years to retain driver’s license.

For DWI convictions after the third conviction, a judge or jury has wide latitude in sentencing. If a Defendant has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment on two prior separate occasions the range of punishment for Driving While Intoxicated Felony-Repetition is punishable up to life in prison. Judges and juries may sentence a defendant to life imprisonment if the facts suggest such harsh sentencing is appropriate. The court considers several factors, including the following:

  • Number of previous DWI convictions
  • Collision caused by DWI
  • Property damage resulting from DWI
  • Injury or death resulting from DWI
  • Presence of a minor child
  • Likelihood of rehabilitation and previous attempts at rehabilitation.

In the Middleton case, Donald Middleton had been to the penitentiary four separate times before his ninth DWI. At the time of his ninth DWI conviction, Middleton still had a valid driver’s license. While driving under the influence of alcohol he also caused a collision with a minor child.

Although the specific factors that influenced the life sentence, it is reasonable to presume the aforementioned factors influenced the judge’s ruling.


Driving While Intoxicated is a serious offense. Not only do you risk the lives and safety of others, you can potentially face harsh criminal penalties. If you or a loved one has been charged with any DWI offense, including first DWI, second DWI, third DWI, repeat DWI or intoxication manslaughter, it is important to consult and experienced Tarrant County DWI defense attorney.

The team of attorneys at Tarrant County based Gebhardt and Eppes, PLLC are former state prosecutors. They possess the skill and experience to build the strongest DWI defense on your behalf. Contact Gebhardt and Eppes, PLLC at (817) 502-3600 for a free initial consultation.

Gebhardt and Eppes, PLLC strongly defend individuals throughout the greater Fort Worth area, including Arlington, Weatherford, Cleburne, and many surrounding communities.