Texas Criminal Laws & Penalties

Below are some basic guidelines and information on penalties for criminal charges in Texas. The laws are complicated, so please feel free to contact us for a consultation on your specific charges. We can help you understand what you are up against, and tell you how we can help you work through your legal problems.

Laws & Penalties in Texas Criminal Courts

As you prepare to fight felony or misdemeanor criminal charges in Texas, it’s important to know the possible penalties if you are convicted. Sentencing can range from fines to probation to time in a Texas prison or county jail.

Here, we’ll give you an overview of how sentencing works in Texas and what you can expect if you are convicted of a crime. You can also find information about specific offenses such as DWI, assault and drug possession in our directory of criminal charges.

First, you should understand the difference between felony and misdemeanor criminal charges, which are defined by the Texas Penal Code.

Felony v. Misdemeanor Penalties for Criminal Charges in Texas

A felony is a serious criminal offense for which you can be fined up to $10,000 and be sentenced to a state penitentiary for a period of between six months and life. You also may lose your right to vote, have a gun or obtain certain state occupational licenses. Felonies include aggravated assault, burglary and DWI, third offense.

CapitalDeath or life in prison without parole
First-degree5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
Second-degree2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
Third-degree2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
State jail180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or a fine of not more than

A misdemeanor is a less serious criminal offense for which you can be fined $4,000 or less and be sentenced to county jail for up to one year. You do not lose any civil rights for a misdemeanor conviction. Misdemeanors include simple assault, theft and DWI, first or second offense.

There are three classes of misdemeanor – A. B and C – and five categories of felony.

Class ANot more than 1 year in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than
Class BNot more than 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than
Class CA fine of not more than $500

As you can see, the penal code sets broad sentencing guidelines for each class and degree of criminal charge. Exact sentences are generally up to the judge, with recommendations from the prosecutor and, in certain cases, from the jury.

How Criminal Sentencing Works in Texas Courts

The judge will typically settle on a sentence one of three ways:

  1. If the prosecution has a strong case, we may make a plea deal on your behalf, usually for a lesser crime with a sentencing recommendation. For example, your charge might be a second-degree felony, but the prosecutor would agree to drop it to a third-degree felony or even a misdemeanor and seek minimal prison time if you agree to enter a guilty plea to the lesser charge. The judge can accept the deal, or refuse, in which case you can withdraw your guilty plea.
  2. In cases that go to trial, the jury can make sentencing recommendations, which the judge must follow. You have the right to choose before trial whether you want the jury to decide the punishment if you are convicted. Before jurors decide, we will have a chance to present character witnesses and mitigating evidence on your behalf.
  3. Or, in the absence of a plea agreement or jury recommendation, the judge may impose sentencing himself. The judge will order a pre-sentence investigation which details your criminal and social history, the facts of the crime and the state’s recommended community supervision plan. We will also have a chance to add comments to the report arguing for leniency.

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure requires that the sentence be handed out in your presence, so the judge will set a sentencing hearing for that purpose.

Will I have to go to jail on my criminal charges?

Frankly, the sentence for a conviction will depend on your previous record, the details of the case and the judge making the decision. We will always seek the least possible sentence, whether in making a plea deal or arguing the case before the judge during sentencing hearings.

In many cases, probation is an option, especially if it is your first conviction.

Probation, or community supervision, is the suspension of your county jail or Texas prison sentence on the understanding that you meet certain requirements set by the court. Typically, you will have to report to a community supervision officer on a regular basis, hold a steady job, pay fines and restitution and allow regular inspections of your home.

Community supervision sentences can run up to two years for misdemeanors and up to 10 years for felonies. If you meet all the conditions, you may be eligible to apply for early release from probation after serving at least one-third of the term.

You may not be eligible for probation or a suspended sentence if your original prison sentence is more than 10 years, if you have previously been convicted of a felony, or if you are convicted of a violent offense such as capital murder, indecency with a child or aggravated robbery, known as 3g offenses for the section of the Code where they are listed.

For serious or repeat felonies, you almost certainly will have to spend some time in county jail or a Texas prison. The sentences can be cumulative, meaning when one ends, the next one begins, or concurrent, meaning you would serve all of the sentences at the same time. You will receive credit for any time spent in jail awaiting trial.

Confinement could be as simple as house arrest or weekends in jail, or as difficult as a long-term sentence in a medium-security or maximum-security Texas prison. For county jail and state prison sentences, you earn time toward an early release with good behavior. You also can apply for parole after serving at least one-quarter of your sentence on most criminal charges.

Whatever the case, we will work with you to make sure you don’t face conviction and sentencing on criminal charges in Texas without a fight, and we will make sure you understand the stakes every step of the way.

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