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    How felonies and misdemeanors are classified and punished in Texas

    All jurisdictions in the United States classify criminal offenses by their degree of seriousness, as determined by legislators. In theory, a crime is committed whenever an ordinance, rule or law is disobeyed. 

    Violations of rules and ordinances typically lead to infractions. Examples of infractions include drivers who fail to make a full stop at an intersection or a homeowner who plays music too loudly late at night. People cited for infractions may have to appear in court, but they are not called criminal defendants and do not expect to receive jail sentences.

    However, if you break the law in Texas, you may be arrested and charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor. There are quite a few differences between these 2 types of charges, with each one carrying various punishments if you’re convicted of the crime.

    If you or a loved one has been arrested and you’re unsure of the difference between these criminal offenses, you should seek professional legal advice to protect your rights. Experienced criminal defense attorney Matt Sharp can help answer any questions you may have.

    What are misdemeanors?

    A misdemeanor is the least severe crime you could be charged with in Texas. 

    A misdemeanor usually involves a crime that isn’t associated with violence. This means that even though you committed a crime, there wasn’t an intention to harm someone else.

    Misdemeanor crimes often include failing to pay child support, shoplifting, harassment and assault. If you don’t have a criminal record, then you might not have to spend any time in jail.

    If you are sentenced to jail after being convicted of a misdemeanor, the length of time you would spend in jail is often much shorter. The maximum jail sentence under misdemeanor charges in Texas is 1 year. Additionally, you would typically serve any jail sentence at a local jail instead of going to a state facility.

    More likely, though, you’ll be sentenced to probation or ordered to pay fines. Fines for misdemeanors can reach a maximum of $4,000 but are usually no higher than $500.

    It’s important to note that even though misdemeanors might not seem like serious offenses, they often remain on your criminal record unless you get them removed. This means that potential employers and landlords will be able to see the charges if they run a background check.

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    Different classes of misdemeanors

    There are different ways that Texas courts could classify a misdemeanor, depending on the actions involved in the crime. The class of the crime will usually determine how long you could be sentenced to jail or how long you might have to be on probation:

    • Class A misdemeanors are at the top of the list, just under a felony charge. These offenses typically involve some kind of violence or the possession of a certain amount of drugs. Other examples include violating a protective order or a second DWI (driving while intoxicated) offense. If convicted of a Class A misdemeanor, you could be sentenced to up to 1 year in jail and have to pay up to $4,000 in fines.
    • Class B misdemeanors usually result in about 180 days in jail and fines of up to $2,000. Common examples of Class B crimes include reckless driving, a first DWI offense, failure to pay child support and prostitution.
    • Class C misdemeanors usually don’t result in a jail sentence, but you could have to serve a period of probation. If you violate the terms of your probation, then you could be sentenced to spend time in jail. An example of a Class C misdemeanor would be property theft of less than $100.

    It’s important to note that certain crimes like drunk driving can be classified as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense. For example, an alleged drunk driver who causes an accident with injuries and property damage may be charged with a felony.

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    What are felonies?

    A felony is considered the most serious type of crime you can commit in Texas and often involves physical harm to another person. Some common examples of felonies include the following:

    Depending on the crime committed, felonies can result in lengthy prison sentences, heavy fines and even the death penalty. Those charged with a federal crime could face trials in federal court as well as in a county or state court.

    Types of felonies

    Below are the different types of felonies you can be charged with in Texas and their potential punishments.

    Capital felonies

    A capital felony is the most serious criminal offense in Texas. If convicted of a capital felony, you may be sentenced to life in jail or face the death penalty. This category of crime and punishment is usually reserved for those who commit murder.

    First-degree felonies

    A first-degree felony is a crime that typically includes some type of aggravated crime, such as assault or kidnapping. Sentences could range from 5 years to 99 years in prison. Fines usually don’t exceed $10,000 but are often closer to the high end of this amount. 

    If you don’t have a criminal history, then you could be sentenced to probation. However, you would need to follow strict guidelines before you’re released or risk spending time in prison if you commit a violation.

    Second-degree felonies

    A second-degree felony is a criminal offense that includes crimes such as aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, arson and more. Penalties include jail time from 2 to 20 years and up to $10,000 in fines. Depending on the specific details of a case, second-degree felonies can sometimes be upgraded to first-degree felonies.

    Third-degree felonies

    A third-degree felony includes charges such as possession of between 5 and 50 pounds of marijuana, intoxication assault, child abandonment and more. Penalties can range from 2 to 10 years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines. There is an option for probation, which would include a strict set of rules for violators to obey.

    State jail felonies

    A rather new charge in Texas is a state jail felony. This is a felony charge typically involving low level drug or property crimes. State jail felonies often result in probation or no more than 2 years in jail.

    How misdemeanor and felony convictions affect your civil liberties

    In general, defendants who are charged with misdemeanor offenses do not have to worry about losing their civil liberties. Felony defendants, on the other hand, may lose their rights to bear arms, vote and hold public office. Certain professional licenses issued by state regulators may also become off-limits to those convicted of felonies.

    Contact an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney

    Regardless of if you’ve been accused of committing a misdemeanor or a felony, you’ll need an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side to defend your rights and ensure you get a fair trial. 

    If you live in the Houston area, contact The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp today to ensure your rights are protected. Matt is a seasoned criminal defense attorney who is committed to ensuring that those accused of criminal offenses get treated fairly and receive the best possible outcomes in their cases.

    Contact his office today for your free consultation.