When you listen to the news, it seems like sentencing is all over the map and doesn’t match the severity of the crime. However, Texas follows sentencing guidelines in the Code of Criminal Procedure. Like so much in our lives, sentencing is affected by multiple factors that can create confusion for those outside the legal profession.
This post aims to clear some of the fog from sentencing guidelines.
Overview of Texas Sentencing Guidelines
Texas uses determinant sentencing, which uses standards put into place for rational and consistent sentencing practices in each jurisdiction. These standards help the courts determine the type of punishment assigned to a crime based on its category or level.
The sentence depends on the following:
- The type of crime committed
- The defendant’s criminal history
- Other circumstances of the case
The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure requires the sentence to be handed down in your presence — the judge sets a sentencing hearing for that purpose. With most sentences, you can earn time toward early release through “good behavior” and apply for parole after serving at least one-quarter of your sentence on most criminal charges.
In Texas, crimes are either misdemeanors, which are relatively minor, or they are felonies, which cover the most severe crimes. In some instances, a felony charge may be reduced to a misdemeanor based on various circumstances. The most severe felonies can result in the death penalty, which is still used in Texas at the time of this writing.
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Misdemeanor Classes in Texas
Misdemeanors are less severe crimes with a maximum penalty of $4,000 in fines and up to one year in county jail. Also, a misdemeanor conviction does not result in the loss of any civil rights.
Misdemeanors fall into classes.
Class C misdemeanors are the least serious and include petty theft, shoplifting (up to a specific value), and traffic violations, except parking tickets. You have a right to a trial with the Justice of the Peace, municipal, or traffic court. The Justice of the Peace court has original jurisdiction, and Class C misdemeanors carry fines of no more than $500 and no jail time.
Examples of Class C Misdemeanors:
- Petty theft or shoplifting of items valued at less than $50
- Traffic citations
- Issuing a bad check for under $20
- Public intoxication, disorderly conduct, or possessing alcohol or tobacco as a minor
- Leaving a child alone in a vehicle or driving under the influence as a minor
- Bail jumping
- Simple assault
- Possessing drug paraphernalia
Class B misdemeanors are more severe than Class C; the court with original jurisdiction is the constitutional county court or county court at law. Class B misdemeanors carry up to 180 days in county jail and fines of up to $2,000. In addition, you can receive two to three years of community service, also known as probation.
First-time offenders may receive deferred adjudication, meaning they accept a deal to plead guilty or no contest. They serve a probationary period after which the case is dismissed, and no criminal convictions appear on the defendant’s record.
Examples of Class B Misdemeanors:
- First-offense DWI
- Indecent exposure
- Silent or prank calls to 911 or intentionally lying to police
- Rioting, harassment, and criminal trespassing
- Presenting a fraudulent degree
Class A misdemeanors are the most serious of the class. The court with original jurisdiction is the same as for Class B misdemeanors, and you can receive up to one year in county jail and fines of up to $4,000.
Class A misdemeanors can also result in up to two years of probation which may be extended to three years. Defendants are eligible for deferred adjudication.
Examples of Class A Misdemeanors:
- Perjury (lying under oath)
- Second-offense DWI
- Public lewdness or obscenity
- Assault with bodily injury or animal cruelty
- Violating a protective order or interfering with a 911 call
- Burglarizing a motor vehicle or coin-operated machine
- Promotion of gambling
- Escaping from misdemeanor custody or jumping bail for a misdemeanor offense
- Resisting arrest or evading on foot
Felony Classes in Texas
Texas categorized felonies into first, second, and third-degree felonies as well as state jail felonies.
State Jail Felony
State jail felonies are more serious than misdemeanors but not as serious as third-degree felonies. Under the right circumstances, they can be reduced to misdemeanors without jail time.
District courts hear state jail felony cases, and you can receive 180 days to two years in jail. Your fine cannot exceed $2,000. You can receive community supervision but cannot earn time off for good behavior to shorten your state jail sentence.
Examples of State Jail Felonies:
- DWI with a child passenger
- Criminally negligent homicide
- Theft of items valued from $1,500 to $20,000
- Improper visual recording or photography
- Interfering with child custody
- Threatening violence to coerce a minor to join a gang
- Credit card abuse or fraudulently using another individual’s identity
A third-degree felony is the lowest degree at the felony level. It’s handled at the district court and can lead to two to ten years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. You may also receive community supervision.
Examples of Third-Degree Felonies:
- Intoxication assault or third-offense DWI
- Tampering with evidence
- Aggravated perjury
- Stalking or violating a protective order (third offense)
- Deadly conduct with a firearm, escape from felony custody or jumping bail for a felony arrest
- Indecent exposure to a child
A second-degree felony is more serious than a third-degree felony. The district court handles the cases, and you can receive two to 20 years in prison with a maximum fine of $10,000. You may receive community supervision, also.
Examples of Second-Degree Felonies:
- Human trafficking or online solicitation of a minor under 14
- Indecent contact with a child or improper educator-student relationship
- Arson, robbery, or manslaughter, including intoxicated manslaughter
- Sexual or aggravated assault
- Stalking (second offense) or evading arrest involving the death of another person
First-degree felonies are the second most serious crimes and involve five to 99 years in prison and fines up to $10,000. You may receive community supervision.
Examples of First-Degree Felonies:
- Solicitation of capital murder or attempted capital murder
- Aggravated assault of a public servant, robbery, or kidnapping
- Aggravated sexual assault against a child
- Arson of a habitation resulting in death
- Escape from custody when serious bodily injury occurs
- Burglarizing a habitation with the intent to commit a felony
- Human trafficking of those under 14
- Causing serious bodily injury to a child, senior citizen, or disabled person
Capital felonies are the most serious crimes you can commit. District court holds jurisdiction, and you have an automatic appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Conviction of a capital felony can result in life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
Examples of Capital Felonies:
- Premeditated murder
- Death resulting from aircraft hijacking
- Murder with special circumstances, such as intentional murder, murder during involvement with another crime, with guns, or of a police officer
Mitigating sentencing considerations may apply to any case and alter the punishment specified in the guidelines. In a jury trial, the jury can recommend sentencing, which the judge must follow, or the judge can impose sentencing in the absence of a plea deal or jury recommendations.
The judge also considers factors such as whether this is a first or repeat offense and whether you are an accomplice or the principal offender. A show of remorse can also alter sentencing.
Why You Need an Attorney
So many factors go into sentencing in Texas. You need a skilled attorney to help you understand the level of crime the courts charge you with and the best defense that results in the lowest sentence. The Office of Brett Podolsky defends individuals for all levels of offense. Contact our office to learn more.