How felonies and misdemeanors are classified and punished in Texas
If you’re arrested for committing a crime in Texas, you first need to know whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor. There are quite a few differences in these 2 types of charges, with each one carrying various punishments if you’re convicted of the crime.
If you’re unsure of the difference between these criminal offenses, or if you have been arrested, you should seek professional legal advice so that you can understand these important differences. 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.
Although you could be sentenced to jail if you’re convicted of a misdemeanor, the length of time you would likely spend in jail is often much shorter—usually less than 1 year. You will usually spend any jail sentence at a local jail instead of going to a state facility.
More likely, though, you will be sentenced to probation or be ordered to pay fines. Fines for misdemeanors are usually no higher than $500.
Keep in mind that even though a misdemeanor might not seem that serious, it typically stays on your criminal record unless you have it expunged. This means that future employers and landlords who perform a background check can see the charges.
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 time in jail at all.
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 that was committed during the crime or possession of a certain amount of drugs. 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 property theft and reckless driving.
- 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.
What are felonies?
The most serious type of crime that you could commit in Texas is a felony. A felony is usually a crime that includes harm against another person or a serious financial crime. Common examples of felonies include murder, rape, arson, child pornography possession and some drug charges.
Felonies often carry a lengthy prison sentence and could result in the death penalty, depending on the type of crime committed. You could spend at least 2 years in prison if you’re convicted. Heavy fines are often associated with a felony as well.
If you’ve committed a federal crime, then you’ll likely be charged with a felony and could stand trial in federal court as well as a county or state court.
If you’re charged with a felony, it’s important to seek legal advice from an attorney who can put together the best defense possible, especially if you have an alibi or if there was someone who shared the responsibilities of committing the crime.
Types of 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.
A first-degree felony is a crime that typically includes some type of aggravated crime, such as assault or kidnapping. Sentencing results could range from 5 years in prison to 99 years. Fines usually don’t exceed $10,000 and 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.
A second-degree felony is a criminal offense including crimes such as aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, arson and more. Penalties include jail time from 2-20 years and up to $10,000 in fines. Some second-degree felonies can be upgraded to a first-degree, depending on the circumstances of the case.
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 between 2 and 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.
A rather new charge in Texas is a state jail felony. This is still a felony charge but has among the least penalties compared to other types of felonies. State jail felonies are often attached with probation or no more than 2 years in jail. The real punishment is having a felony listed on your background record, as this could do much more harm than spending time in jail.