Texas Crimes by Class and Punishments
How does Texas classify crimes? What are the sentencing guidelines for felonies vs. misdemeanors?
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 to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
Texas misdemeanor offenses
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.
Class C misdemeanors
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
- Traffic citations
- Issuing a “hot” or bad check for under $20
- Petty theft or shoplifting of items valued at less than $50
- Use of laser pointers
- Leaving a child alone inside a vehicle
- Disorderly conduct
- Public intoxication
- Possessing alcohol or tobacco as a minor
- Driving under the influence as a minor
- Possessing alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle
- Simple assault
- Bail jumping
- Possessing drug paraphernalia
Class B 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
- DWI (first offense)
- Indecent exposure
- Possessing 2 ounces or less of marijuana
- Silent or prank calls to emergency number 911
- Intentionally lying to police
- Presenting a fraudulent degree
- Criminal trespassing
- Making a terror threat
Class A 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
- Perjury (lying under oath in court)
- Burglarizing a motor vehicle
- Burglarizing a coin-operated machine
- DWI (second offense)
- Assault with bodily injury
- Public lewdness
- Possessing 2 to 4 ounces of marijuana
- Promotion of gambling
- Jumping bail for a misdemeanor offense
- Escaping from misdemeanor custody
- Resisting arrest
- Evading arrest on foot
- Carrying a weapon unlawfully
- Animal cruelty
- Theft of a check
- Interfering with a 911 call
- Violating a protective order
Texas felony crimes
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.
State jail felony
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
- DWI (driving while intoxicated) with a child passenger
- Criminally negligent homicide
- Possessing less than a gram of a controlled substance (certain illegal drugs)
- Burglarizing a building
- Forging a check
- Using a vehicle to evade arrest
- Unauthorized use of a vehicle
- Theft of items valued from $1,500 to $20,000
- Threatening violence to coerce a minor to join a gang
- Credit card abuse
- Criminal nonsupport
- Cruelty to animals
- False alarm or false report
- Possessing or fraudulently using someone’s identifying information
- Improper visual recording or photography
- Interfering with child custody
Third degree felony
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
- Indecent exposure to a child
- Intoxication assault
- DWI (third offense)
- Tampering with evidence
- Aggravated perjury (lying under oath in court)
- Jumping bail for a felony arrest
- Possessing a firearm as a felon
- Violating a protective order (third offense)
- Escape from felony custody
- Deadly conduct with a firearm
Second degree felony
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
- Online solicitation of a minor under 14 years of age
- Human trafficking
- Improper educator-student relationship
- Indecent contact with a child
- Manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter
- Marijuana drug possession (50 to 2,000 pounds)
- Aggravated assault
- Sexual assault
- Bigamy (marriage to more than one person)
- Stalking (second offense )
- Evading arrest involving death of another person
First degree felony
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
- Aggravated sexual assault against a child
- Solicitation of capital murder
- Attempted capital murder
- Aggravated robbery
- Aggravated kidnapping
- Aggravated assault of a public servant
- Escaping from custody when serious bodily injury is involved
- Burglarizing a habitation with the intent to commit a felony
- Causing a serious bodily injury to a disabled person, senior citizen or child
- Trafficking persons below age 14
- Arson of a habitation resulting in death
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
- Capital murder (premeditated)
- Murder with special circumstances (such as intentional, multiple, involved with another crime, with guns, of a police officer, or a repeat offense)
- Death resulting from aircraft hijacking
Special sentencing circumstances
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:
- If the defendant is a first-time or repeat offender
- If the defendant was an accomplice or the main offender
- If the defendant committed the crime under great personal stress or duress
- If anyone was harmed, and whether the crime was committed in a manner that was unlikely to result in anyone being hurt
- If the defendant was especially cruel to the victim, or particularly destructive
- If the defendant appears to be genuinely sorry or remorseful
Whatever the charge, our Houston criminal defense law firm is ready to help
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 legal review of your case.