In the eyes of the law, there really isn’t an “eye for an eye” approach. There are levels to the criminal justice system, and different crimes come with different punishments. Understanding the nuances between criminal charges can be confusing, with varying criteria among the state and federal governments.
In Texas, similar to many states, crimes are mainly divided into two categories, misdemeanors and felonies, but those two categories have several sub-categories within them. Here’s what you need to know about each classification.
Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies and therefore involve less or no jail time and smaller fines. The same crime, however, may be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on severity. An example is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“You can be slightly over the limit during a DUI stop and get a misdemeanor, but if you have children in the car or are severely over the blood alcohol limit you can face a felony charge,” according to FindLaw.
Texas has three levels of misdemeanors, each with different maximum fines and incarceration times:
- Class A misdemeanors involve penalties of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Examples include burglary, theft of property valued at $500 to $1,500, stalking without bodily injury, assault, and unlawfully carrying a weapon.
- Class B misdemeanors can result in jail time of up to 180 days and a $2,000 fine. These crimes include indecent exposure, obstructing a roadway, theft of less than $500, criminal mischief, failure to pay child support, harassment, and filing a false report with a police officer.
- Class C misdemeanors are restricted to fines of $500 or less. These include infractions like disorderly conduct, possession of drug paraphernalia, simple assault, and traffic tickets. People convicted of a Class C misdemeanor are often required to serve probation, and violation of probation could lead to jail time. Also, if a crime doesn’t fall into any of the three classes of misdemeanors and doesn’t have a specified punishment, it automatically becomes a Class C misdemeanor.
Most people plead guilty or have their misdemeanor cases dismissed but, if they go to trial, a jury of six people will listen and return a verdict.
The state has a maximum of two years to prosecute for a misdemeanor under the statute of limitations in Texas.
Felony charges are separated into degrees in Texas. The lowest level is a state jail felony with a potential punishment of up to two years in prison. Crimes at this level include theft of property valued over $1,500 but less than $20,000, check forgery, animal cruelty, credit card fraud, and criminally negligent homicide.
Other felonies are arranged by degree:
- Third-degree felonies may lead to 2 to 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- Second-degree felonies may lead to up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- First-degree felonies can result in 5 to 99 years in prison, although people without a criminal record may be able to qualify for probation only.
Felony crimes include murder, robbery, carjacking, and kidnapping.
A capital felony conviction can mean the maximum punishment allowed in Texas, which is life in prison or execution. Any conviction can be appealed to a higher court, and sentence involving the death penalty automatically goes to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Choosing your defense attorney
In every case, the government is responsible for proving a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s why it’s important to hire a defense attorney after being accused of a crime. Experienced attorneys are familiar with the criminal justice system and can fairly represent you, tell you your rights, file motions in court, give advice about whether to accept a plea deal or take a case to trial, and answer questions along the way.
If you’ve been accused of a crime, you can schedule a free consultation with the attorneys at LaHood Norton Law Group, who have experience fighting cases from both the prosecuting and defending side. Call 210-797-7700 or visit lahoodnorton.com to talk with someone about your case.