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.