In Texas, charges for crimes and their punishments can vary widely, depending on the nature of the crime, history of the defendant, and other circumstances of the case. In this, veteran Houston criminal defense lawyer Neal Davis helps people understand how crimes are classified in Texas by level and type.
First, it's important to understand that the state of Texas (along with many other states) has adopted the system of determinate sentencing. This means that sentencing guidelines — a set of standards that are generally put in place to establish rational and consistent sentencing practices within a particular jurisdiction — help determine what punishment should be assigned for the crime.
Sentencing for a crime in Texas is based on which category or level the offense falls into. These levels are listed in ascending order below (from least serious to most serious):
To find out which type of offense your specific case falls into, contact our law firm for a free consultation as soon as possible.
The least serious criminal offenses are classified as misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are sorted into different "classes" based on severity. The three categories of misdemeanor offenses are Class A, Class B, and Class C, with class A misdemeanors being the most serious. Persons convicted of a misdemeanor in Texas don't lose any civil rights.
In Texas, Class C misdemeanors are the lowest level of criminal offense. They can include a fine of no more than $500 and no jail time. But you still have a right to a trial, which can be held in Municipal Court, Traffic Court, or a Justice of the Peace Court.
Most traffic tickets and violations (except for parking tickets) in Texas are considered Class C misdemeanors.
Examples of Class C Misdemeanors
Class B misdemeanors in Texas can involve up to 180 days in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000, as well as two years of community supervision (probation) or three years with an extension.
First-time offenders may receive "deferred adjudication." This means that, before a trial, the defendant agrees to a plea deal by pleading "guilty" or "no contest," and after a period of probation is completed successfully, the case is dismissed and the person has no criminal conviction.
Examples of Class B Misdemeanors
In Texas, a Class A Misdemeanor is the worst type of misdemeanor and can involve punishment of up to a year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000, or up to two years of community supervision (probation) or three years with an extension. Deferred adjudication (see above) is also an option.
Examples of Class A Misdemeanors
What are felonies? Simply put, a felony is the most serious type of criminal offense. According to sentencing guidelines, punishment for a felony crime in Texas can range anywhere from 180 days in jail to life in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and community supervision. This is the highest level of sentencing in the the American criminal justice system.
Felony crimes in Texas are broken into varying levels, or "degrees," based on the seriousness of the offense and the severity of punishment that is acceptable in the case.
First, you should know the meaning of a "state jail felony." It doesn't technically fall into the degree system of other types of felonies, so what is it exactly?
Essential, it's a state crime for which punishment is jail time of at least 180 days and no more than two years, and a fine which cannot surpass $2,000. Punishment also may include community supervision.
Perhaps you've heard of "time off for good behavior." That principle doesn't apply with state jail felonies, whose jail time must be served in full — unlike in a county jail or the Texas Department of Corrections, for which inmates may be released early.
On the other hand, some state jail felonies may be lowered to misdemeanors with no jail time under Texas Penal Code Sec. 12.44. The Neal Davis Law Firm has succeeded in reducing charges in many such cases.
Examples of State Jail Felonies
Third degree felonies in Texas are a more serious charge than state jail felonies and misdemeanors. Punishment involves prison time of 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000. Community supervision also may be involved.
Examples of Third Degree Felonies
Second degree felonies in Texas are a more serious charge than third degree felonies, state jail felonies, and misdemeanors. Punishment can range from 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000, with the chance of community supervision.
Examples of Second Degree Felonies
First degree felony offenses are the second most serious crimes in Texas. Punishment involves 5 to 99 years or life in prison, as well as a fine of up to $10,000, along with possible community supervision.
Examples of First Degree Felonies
Capital felonies are the worst criminal offense. In Texas, conviction of a capital felony means the sentence imposed can be life imprisonment or death.
Examples of Capital Felonies
While this guide provides a general overview of how Texas law categorizes certain crimes and assigns an appropriate punishment, it's important to also note that mitigating sentencing considerations may apply to any given case which might alter the punishment specified by the sentencing guidelines.
For instance, if a teenager is charged with a Class B Misdemeanor for prank calling 911 — their first criminal offense — after being peer pressured by their friends, and the teen seems to be deeply remorseful of their actions, then the judge may choose to waive county jail time and instead just require them to pay a fine as punishment.
Some common factors considered by judges when applying a punishment include:
Regardless of your criminal charge, experienced Houston criminal defense attorney Neal Davis is prepared to help if your case is in Harris County, Fort Bend County or Montgomery County. Contact our firm today and get a free legal review of your case.
Continue reading: Texas Felonies vs. Misdemeanors: What's the Difference?