Misdemeanor Ranges of Punishment in Texas

when arrested in round rock
A basic, yet vitally important aspect of a criminal case is what is the level of the offense charged.  The level of offense determines the maximum and minimum punishments should a defendant be found guilty.  In Texas, as in most states, most criminal offenses can be broken into two broad categories, misdemeanors and felonies.  Today we are going to are going to focus on misdemeanors.

For a misdemeanor, the worst punishment is confinement in the local county jail.  So we are not talking about prison, simply confinement in the jail probably located in or near the county seat.  For felonies, however, the worst punishment is confinement in prison, which in Texas we refer to as TDC or TDCJ (for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice).  But again, today, we are just talking about misdemeanors.

Now misdemeanors in Texas are further subdivided into three different penalty ranges.  For misdemeanors, Texas ranks them from least serious to most as follows:  Class C misdemeanors at the bottom, then Class B, then Class A misdemeanors.  Let’s look at each.

A Class C misdemeanor is what we would normally consider “just a ticket”; where a police officer stops the defendant, writes a ticket and lets them go with a promise to appear in court later.   Here we are talking about relatively minor offenses such as Disorderly Conduct or Public Intoxication.  You can be arrested on a Class C Misdemeanor, but that’s rare.  A Class C misdemeanor in Texas can result in a fine of up to $500.00 plus court costs and that’s it, no jail time, no probation, just a maximum fine of $500.00 only.

Next on the level of seriousness in Texas are Class B misdemeanors.  Unlike with Class C misdemeanors where you’ll likely just get a ticket and not go to jail, Class B misdemeanors typically result in arrest.  Typical examples are first offense DWI’s, Possession of Marijuana less than 2 grams, and Theft from $50.00 to $500.00.  A Class B misdemeanor carries a range of punishment of 0 to 180 days in the county jail, or up to 2 years of probation, and/or a fine from 0 dollars to $2,000.00.

Last on the Texas misdemeanor punishment ladder are Class A misdemeanors, representing the most serious misdemeanors according to the legislature.  Here we are talking about crimes such as Assault Causing Bodily Injury, Resisting Arrest, second offense DWI’s, and others.  Class A misdemeanors in Texas carry a range of punishment from 0 to 365 days in the county jail, or up to 2 years of probation, and/or a fine from 0 dollars to $4,000.00.

Above the Class A misdemeanor range we get into the realm of felonies, which I’ll discuss in a forthcoming post.

 

Out on Bail but Not Out of Trouble: Bond Conditions

The law in Texas gives judges the ability to order any “reasonable bond condition” on a criminal defendant

 

A person gets arrested, goes to jail, makes bail and gets released.  Other than showing up for court, he’s got nothing to else to worry about, right?  Unfortunately not, in many cases.  In Texas, Chapter 17 of the Code of Criminal Procedure authorizes judges to set what are called bond conditions on a criminal defendant.  Each of these conditions are things that the defendant must do, or must not do, or risk having their bond either revoked (taken away) or their bond amount raised, either of which can mean going back to jail.

These bond conditions fall into two categories, general and offense-specific.  Let’s talk about general bond conditions first.  General bond conditions are broadly-worded warnings from the judge to the defendant like “don’t break the law”, or “don’t use drugs without a prescription”, or “make all your scheduled court appearances”.  Let’s say you are out on bail for offense X and then six weeks later you are arrested again for offense Y, well, the judge on offense X can revoke or raise your bail for that original case.  That can mean another trip back to jail, and more money out of your pocket to get free.

General bond conditions don’t even have to be formally ordered by the judge to take effect.  It is simply assumed that defendants know that if they break the law, use illegal drugs while out on bond, or skip out on court, they are putting their bond at risk.  As the old saying goes, ignorance of the law is no defense.

While general bond conditions can apply to any type criminal charge, offense-specific bond conditions are, as the name says, linked to that particular offense.  For example, an alcohol-related offense can trigger a bond condition that the defendant must use an ignition interlock device on their vehicle or must wear a SCRAM alcohol ankle monitor.  White collar or financial crimes may trigger bond conditions to not hold other people’s money in trust or even handle money at a charity event.  Family violence allegations can trigger a whole host of bond conditions such as being forbidden to possess firearms, to have no contact with the alleged victim of the offense, or even being subject to GPS monitoring.

And the list goes on and on.  Computer crime?  There can be a court order to stay off the internet.  Crimes against a child?  There can be an order to have no contact with anyone under the age of 18.  The possibilities are almost endless.  The law in Texas gives judges the ability to order any “reasonable bond condition” on a criminal defendant who is awaiting their ultimate day in court.  Now, what some may see as reasonable, someone else may consider to be overly burdensome.  So even though a criminal defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty, the experience of being a criminal defendant out on bond can sometimes not feel that way.

 

What to Do When a Loved One is Arrested in Texas

It pays to be patient and treat the folks answering the phone politely.

To begin with, and I know this sounds simple, but don’t panic.  Just take a deep breath and move through the following steps.

First, determine what county your loved one was arrested in.  This is important because no matter what agency made the arrest, your loved one will eventually end up in a county jail; there are no city jails, only county jails.  When you know what county they are in, look up the county jail phone number and keep it with you.  You will be using that number a lot.when arrested in round rock

Second, call the county jail and verify that they have your loved one in custody.  Often the folks answering the phone do not yet have an updated list of new arrestees, so you may have to call back several times.  It pays to be patient and treat the folks answering the phone politely.

Third, if you can, find out from the jail staff what the exact charges are and then what the bond amount is.  The bond will be an amount of money that will need to be pledged to the county before your loved one will be released from jail.  Many times, the bond amount will not be known until your loved one sees a special judge at the jail known as a magistrate.  In those cases, the magistrate will set the bond and unfortunately, you’ll simply have to wait until that happens before they can be released.  Some larger counties have magistrate judges available 24 hours a day to process newly-arrested people.  However, some smaller counties only have magistrate judges available at certain times, and if the arrest happens outside of those times, you could be in for a longer wait.  Again, until your loved one is brought before the magistrate judge, they cannot be released.

When you do find out the bail bond amount, the next question is how to pay it.  There are two, and depending on the county, possibly three ways to pay that bond and get your loved one out of jail: a cash bond, a surety bond, and an attorney bond.  Let’s talk about each.

What is a cash bond?  This is simply a bond where you pay the entire amount to the county jail yourself.  When the case is completely finished some week, months, or even years later, you will get all of your money back minus a small handling fee.  It’s called a cash bond but really you can pay with cash, a cashier’s check or a money order.  A county will not likely take a personal check from you, so be prepared.  For the exact steps to pay the cash bond in a particular county, contact that county jail.

What if you don’t have the money to pay 100% of the bond amount as a cash bond?  Well, that is what a bail bond company is for: posting a surety bond.  A bail bond company will charge you a percentage of the total bond amount, say 10% – 15%, and they will pledge the rest of the bail amount to the county with a surety bond.  That percentage that you pay to the bail bond company will NOT be returned to you when the case is over, as it is essentially the fee for their service of getting your loved one out without you having to pay 100% of the bail amount.  A good bail bond company in the county that your loved one is jailed in will likely be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can handle all financial transactions over the phone or electronically.

In some counties, but not all, there is a third option: an attorney bond.  Here, an attorney acts as your bondsman.  You pay them a fee and they will get your loved one out of jail.  Again, many counties do not allow for attorney bonds.  Check with the county jail to see if that county does or does not.

Ultimately, until your loved one has 1) seen the magistrate judge in jail AND 2) had their bond paid either as a cash, surety, or attorney bond, only then can the jail begin the process of finally releasing your loved one.  Depending on the county, some jails are simply faster and more efficient at processing people in and out of jail.  What may take an hour in one county may stretch out to an entire half-day someplace else.  It can be a frustrating process, but by arming yourself with some knowledge about how and why the system works like it does, it doesn’t have to be a giant mystery.