Updated on May 1, 2023
Some people don’t know what a misdemeanor is, while others misguidedly believe that a misdemeanor is no big deal in the scheme of things. However, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, neither approach will do you any favors.
There is a lot of misinformation out there, and better understanding what misdemeanor charges are all about can help you avoid facing such a charge or can help you make the right decisions for you if you do face such a charge. If you do find yourself facing a misdemeanor charge (of any kind), do not delay consulting with an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney.
The Three Levels of Crime under Texas Law
Under Texas law, there are three levels of crimes:
Infractions are the least serious type of crime in Texas, and they are punishable only by fines, tickets, and community service. Infractions cannot lead to arrest or jail time. Some of the most common infractions include the following offenses:
Speeding or running a stop sign
Being a public nuisance
Disturbing the peace, such as with loud music at a party
After a certain length of time has passed, your conviction for an infraction will disappear from your record.
Misdemeanors amp the charges up a notch, and most misdemeanor charges are punishable by fines – while some also include jail time or house arrest. Texas misdemeanors are classified as either Class A, Class B, or Class C charges, with Class A being the most serious and carrying the harshest penalties. Repeat convictions for misdemeanors can lead to enhanced sentencing.
Common misdemeanor charges include a first DWI conviction, petty theft, disorderly conduct, shoplifting, and more.
Misdemeanors usually stay on your permanent criminal record. However, in some instances, it may be possible to have a misdemeanor charge removed from your record via careful legal intervention – consulting with a dedicated criminal defense attorney is key.
Felonies are the most serious criminal charge you can face, and the severe penalties, fines, and jail time possible upon conviction reflect this fact. Felonies break down into five classifications – the most severe of which are capital felonies. Felony convictions stay on your criminal record indefinitely.
Considering Common Misdemeanors
The State of Texas takes its misdemeanor charges seriously, and you should too. In order to better understand misdemeanors, it is important to consider some of the most common misdemeanor charges.
Disorderly conduct charges refer to engaging in conduct that upsets or otherwise disturbs the public’s general order. Disorderly conduct covers actions that are considered indecent, vulgar, profane, abusive, offensive, threatening, or generally annoying (such as noxious fumes or unreasonably loud noises).
The language used in the disorderly conduct statute is both broad and vague, which means that it can be applied to nearly any situation. As a result, disorderly conduct charges are often thrown in as a freebie with other charges, such as public lewdness, criminal mischief, or assault.
A conviction for disorderly conduct is typically a Class C misdemeanor which can lead to fines of up to $500.
Petty theft is also referred to as misdemeanor theft. In Texas (as in other states), theft charges are classified according to the value of the stolen property. Consider the following classifications for petty theft:
Theft is considered a Class C Misdemeanor if the property stolen is worth less than $100. This offense carries no jail time but includes fines of up to $500.
Theft is considered a Class B Misdemeanor if the property stolen is worth less than $100 (but it is a second charge), is worth between $100 and $750, or is a driver’s license or another form of identification. This offense can carry jail time of up to 180 days and fines of up to $2,000.
Theft is considered a Class A Misdemeanor if the property stolen is worth between $750 and $2,50. This offense can carry up to one year of jail time and fines of up to $4,000.
In the State of Texas, shoplifting is just another name for theft – only it happens to be from a store.
First Offense DWI
In Texas, a first offense DWI refers to having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent. This charge is a Class B misdemeanor. A conviction for a first offense DWI can lead to a jail sentence of up to 180 days, fines of up to $2,000, and a license suspension.
If the BAC reaches .15 percent or more, the charge can be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor, which comes with even more serious fines and penalties.
Drug Crimes (involving small quantities)
Drugs are classified into penalty groups in the State of Texas, and possession of a small amount of a drug in a certain penalty group is a misdemeanor. Review these common misdemeanor drug penalty groups:
Penalty Group 2-A
Penalty Group 2-A refers to artificial cannabinoids, such as those known on the street as Spice and K2. Possession of less than a gram is a Class B misdemeanor, and possession of 1 to 4 grams is a Class A misdemeanor. Any amount over 4 grams takes the matter into felony territory.
Penalty Group 3
Penalty Group 3 refers to prescription drugs (without the necessary prescription) that have either a stimulant or depressant effect, including benzodiazepines, anabolic steroids, and more. Possession of small amounts of these drugs (less than 28 grams) is a Class B misdemeanor, which can carry jail time of up to 180 days and fines of up to $2,000.
Penalty Group 4
Penalty Group 4 refers primarily to prescription medications that are at high risk for abuse. Possession of fewer than 28 grams is a Class B misdemeanor, which can carry jail time of up to 180 days and fines of up to $2,000.
Marijuana does not fit in any of the other penalty groups and stands in a class of its own. Possession of less than a quarter ounce of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, which can carry jail time of up to 180 days and fines of up to $2,000.
Criminal trespassing is a fairly complicated charge that involves the following elements:
You entered or remained on someone else’s property.
You did not have effective consent from the property owner.
You failed to depart when you were given notice that your entry was forbidden.
Trespass charges often hinge on whether the alleged trespasser was given notice that his or her entry was forbidden. The law requires that such notice be either written or oral and that it be made by the property owner, manager, or someone with apparent authority to act for the owner. Notice is also considered adequate when any of the following circumstances apply:
The property is surrounded by fencing or is otherwise enclosed in a manner that is obviously designed to keep intruders out or to keep livestock in.
There is a sign or signs forbidding entrance posted either on or at the entrance to the structure that entrants are reasonably likely to see.
Specific conditions are met, such as the use of highly identifiable purple paint marks on trees or posts on the property.
There is an obvious crop on the property that is in the process of being cultivated, harvested, or otherwise made marketable.
Criminal trespass charges are generally Class B misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $2,000.
Public intoxication in Texas amounts to being in a public place while intoxicated to such a degree that the person is deemed capable of harming himself, herself, or someone else. Public intoxication is generally a Class C misdemeanor charge, which carries fines of up to $500.
Leaving a Child in an Automobile Unattended
In Texas, it is a crime to intentionally or knowingly leave a child in a car or another kind of vehicle for more than five minutes. The charge is a Class C misdemeanor and can lead to fines of up to $500.
A Misdemeanor Is a Criminal Charge
While a misdemeanor is not as serious as a felony, it is nevertheless a criminal offense that can leave you with a criminal record. In addition to the fines and penalties you face, a misdemeanor can have serious social consequences:
Your overall social standing can take a hit.
Because your criminal record is a matter of public record, a misdemeanor conviction can make you a less-than-ideal job candidate and can make finding a job more difficult.
A conviction can affect your ability to rent a house or apartment and can even affect your ability to obtain a home loan.
If your conviction involves a DWI, you can face a license suspension that makes running your life as you know it exceptionally challenging.
A conviction can make it difficult to obtain a college degree by making it harder to gain acceptance into the college of your choice, limiting your ability to obtain a federal student loan, and decreasing your chances of obtaining on-campus housing.
If you are facing a misdemeanor charge, bringing your strongest defense from the outset is always in your best interest. Contact a skilled criminal defense attorney for help guiding you through your misdemeanor charge.
Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney
It is true that the penalties for a misdemeanor conviction are less harsh than they would be for a felony conviction, but you can rest assured that such a conviction will upset your life in dramatic ways that you may not have even considered. Having a dedicated criminal defense attorney on your side is always well-advised – for a variety of important reasons.
Avoiding Jail Time
You do not want to spend time in jail. Even a night or two can have serious emotional and social repercussions, and doing everything you can to avoid this eventuality is well worth the effort. One of the best strategies for avoiding jail time in the face of a misdemeanor charge is working closely with a seasoned criminal defense attorney from the outset.
Avoiding a Criminal Record
Not only do you want to avoid jail time, but you also want – and need – to avoid a criminal record in the first place. As mentioned, a misdemeanor is a criminal charge, and a conviction is a criminal conviction. Discuss your case and begin building your best defense strategy with a savvy criminal defense attorney today.
Protecting Your Legal Rights
Just because you have been charged with a misdemeanor does not mean that you are guilty of a misdemeanor. In fact, the police often take a heavy-handed approach in these matters and let the prosecution sort things out (by obtaining whatever convictions they possibly can).
You are well-advised to remember that you have legal rights that are worth protecting. Your criminal defense attorney will help to ensure that you understand your legal rights and will make it his or her mission to protect these rights throughout the legal process. One favor you can do for yourself toward this end is to allow your attorney to speak on your behalf and invoke your right to remain silent.
Your attorney will help in all the following primary ways:
Building your strongest defense based on all the available evidence
Dissecting the evidence that the state has and focusing on any inherent weaknesses, inconsistencies, or ambiguity
Ensuring that you understand the legal process and make the right decisions for you throughout
Striving to ensure that you avoid jail time and a criminal record if at all possible
Discuss Your Misdemeanor Charge with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Anyone who tells you that a misdemeanor charge is no big deal has never faced such a charge, and you should not consider him or her a reliable advisor. No matter how you parse the matter, a misdemeanor is a criminal charge, and a conviction can mean jail time (in some cases), a criminal record, a stain on your social standing, serious fines, and more.
If a misdemeanor charge is levied against you, the time to consult with a practiced criminal law attorney is right now. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is standing by to help. Mr. Pritchard focuses his considerable practice on helping clients like you favorably resolve their misdemeanor cases and move forward into their brightest futures.