“Three Strikes, You’re Out” Could Mean a Life Sentence for Texas DUI Offenders

US Navy 090603-N-8732C-078 A Naval Support Activity Washington police officer checks the passenger compartment of a vehicle after the driver was stopped, detained and evaluated for driving under the influence

The imposition of life in prison is usually reserved for the worst criminal offenses—murder, rape, and terrorism, among others. But under Texas’s “three strikes” law, individuals who are convicted of their third felony DUI may find themselves facing life behind bars. Lonnie Gene Kinnett, of Galveston County, was recently sentenced to life in prison after he accumulated three felony DUI convictions within the last 14 years. Therefore, making him a prime candidate and example of the “three strikes, you’re out”.

Cracking Down on “Habitual Intoxicated Drivers”

In March 2017, Lonnie Gene Kinnett was observed weaving across the center line into oncoming traffic and even flinging a green glass bottle from the cab of his SUV. When police later apprehended Kinnett in the parking lot of a Santa Fe bar, he was asleep behind the wheel. His blood alcohol content (BAC) was nearly twice the legal limit, and his vehicle was littered with empty beer bottles.

Because Kinnett had already racked up two prior felony DUI convictions since 2004, his third felony DUI charge constituted a third strike under Texas’s “three strikes” law. The District Attorney’s office issued a press release on this case in which the DA claimed it was “time to send a message that the community will not tolerate habitual intoxicated drivers.” After a trial, a Galveston County jury sentenced Kinnett to life in prison, although he will likely be eligible for parole after he serves 15 years of his sentence.

What Does Texas Consider a “Strike”?

Texas’s “three strikes” law was enacted as a way to keep dangerous habitual offenders off the streets. While many view prison as an opportunity to rehabilitate criminal offenders and allow them to reintegrate into society upon their release, some states’ lawmakers (including the Texas legislature) have decided that those who continue to commit felonies after being released from prison are better off being segregated from the general public. Individuals who are convicted of their third felony under Texas law could face anywhere from 15 years to life in prison.

Multiple DUI convictions can lead to severe consequences. In order to be charged with a felony (instead of a misdemeanor) DUI you’ll usually need a dangerously high BAC, several DUI convictions within a very brief period of time, or involvement in a DUI-related crash that caused serious injury or death to another. Anyone who continues to drive after being convicted of one or more felony DUIs should certainly abstain from drinking at any event where there’s a chance they’ll be behind the wheel; failure to do so could create far greater consequences than a mere driver’s license revocation.