In an earlier blog we discussed misdemeanor ranges of punishment in Texas, which are the minimum and maximum punishments one can receive upon a conviction for a misdemeanor. Today, we are focusing on felony ranges of punishments.
Where a misdemeanor worst case scenario involves confinement in the local county jail, for a Texas felony, the worst punishment is confinement in either at what is called a State Jail Facility or prison, which in Texas we refer to as TDC or TDCJ (for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice). These State Jail or TDC facilities can be far from where a defendant lives which may be a hardship when it comes to receiving visits from family members.
As with misdemeanors, felonies in Texas are subdivided by penalty range from least serious to most serious as follows: State Jail felonies, third degree felonies, second degree felonies, first degree felonies and finally, capital felonies. Let’s look at each.
A State Jail felony is the lowest set of felony offense in Texas. If a defendant is found guilty, they can be sentenced to serve anywhere from 180 days to 2 years in a State Jail Facility or serve up to five years of probation and/or pay a fine of up to $10,000.00. Now what is a State Jail Facility as opposed to plain ol’ prison? A State Jail facility looks and acts pretty much like a county jail, there are no big towers with rifle-toting guards watching the grounds, it’s just a big building. Also, where people sent to prison may be eligible for parole and get out earlier than their sentenced time, a sentence to State Jail is served day-for-day with no parole. So a 2 year State Jail sentence for example means 2 actual day-for-day years.
State Jail felonies were created to encompass non-violent offenses so that non-violent offenders wouldn’t be mixing with violent offenders, at least in theory. Typical examples of a State Jail felony offense include Forgery, Possession of a Penalty Group 1 Controlled Substance less than 1 gram, and Theft of a Firearm.
Next up the punishment ladder are third degree felonies. In Texas, a third degree felony is punishable by confinement in prison anywhere from 2 to 10 years or up to 10 years of probation and/or a fine of up to $10,000.00. Some examples are DWI – 3rd Offense, Tampering with Evidence, or Possession of a Penalty Group 1 Controlled Substance from 1 to 4 grams.
Next we have second degree felonies. Here in Texas, a second degree felony carries a range of punishment from 2 to 20 years in prison or up to 10 years of probation and/or a fine of up to $10,000.00. Some examples of second degree felonies include Aggravated Assault Causing Serious Bodily Injury and Intoxication Manslaughter.
Coming close to the top of the punishment range in Texas are first degree felonies. These felonies carry a range of punishment from 5 to 99 years in prison or life in prison or up to 10 years of probation and/or a fine of up to $10,000.00. In Texas, Murder, or Aggravated Assault against of Public Servant are examples of first degree felonies.
Above even first degree felonies are capital felonies. Here, we are talking about offenses such as Capital Murder, which carry the potential for the death penalty, which Texas does indeed still recognize and enforce. Should a defendant be found guilty of a capital felony in Texas and they do not receive the death penalty, they can still be facing life in prison without the possibility of parole.
It is important to remember that in addition to crimes spelled out in the Texas Penal Code, there are other crimes found tucked away in many places in the larger body of Texas law, from the Health and Safety Code to the Government Code to the Water Code and others. Some of these crimes fall in to the felony vs. misdemeanor categories we’ve discussed above, but some just defy such easy definition.
Also, in a forthcoming post I’ll discuss the vitally important aspect of sentencing enhancements, which can effectively upgrade a felony into the next higher punishment range in certain situations.