Felony Charges in Texas
Felonies are the most serious legal charges for the most serious legal offenses. In the State of Texas, a felony conviction can lead to from 180 days in jail to life behind bars, to fines of up to $10,000, and to the potential for community supervision (or probation. Felony charges are categorized into levels or degrees that are based on how serious the offense is, and the higher the level, the more serious the sentence for a conviction will be.
The Basic Felony Levels
The basic levels of felonies in Texas include:
State jail felonies
Let’s take a closer look at each.
State Jail Felonies
State jail felonies are not officially classified as felonies and do not fall into the same degree system that felonies do (first-degree, second-degree, and so on). Instead, state jail felonies are crimes that are committed in the State of Texas that carry a punishment that amounts to a minimum of 180 days in jail, to a maximum of 2 years in jail, to fines that cannot exceed $2,000, and/or to the potential sentence of community supervision (or probation). A unique aspect of state jail time is that there is no time off for good behavior. Every sentence for a state jail felony conviction must be served in full – whereas time served in a county jail or in the Texas Department of Corrections can be shortened for various reasons. Conversely, if you are charged with a state jail felony, there is the possibility of pleading it down to a misdemeanor and avoiding jail time altogether. If you are facing a criminal charge as serious as a state jail felony, bringing your strongest defense is paramount and working closely with a dedicated criminal defense lawyer is key. Common state jail felony charges include:
Driving while intoxicated (DWI) with a child passenger
Burglarizing a building
Possession of less than a gram of certain illegal drugs
Using a vehicle to evade arrest
Forging a check
Theft of property in the amount of from $1,500 to $20,000
Using violence to coerce a minor into joining a gang
Cruelty to animals
False reporting or engaging in false alarm
Interfering with child custody
Credit card abuse
Unauthorized use of a vehicle
Possessing or fraudulently using someone else’s identifying information
Improper video recording or photography
RELATED READINGS: Texas Criminal Procedure: Felonies
Third-degree felonies are more serious still, and a conviction can lead to from 2 to 10 years in prison, to fines of up to $10,000, and/or to the potential for a sentence of community supervision (or probation). Some of the most common third-degree felony charges include:
Third offense DWI
Tampering with evidence
Indecent exposure to a child
Aggravated perjury (lying to the court under oath)
Jumping bail for a felony arrest
Felon in possession of a firearm
Violating a protective order
Tampering with evidence
Deadly conduct with a firearm
Escape from felony custody
Second-degree felonies are naturally significantly more serious than both state jail felonies and third-degree felonies, and a conviction can lead to from 2 to 20 years in prison, to up to $10,000 in fines, and/or to the potential for a sentence of community supervision (or probation). Common second-degree felony charges include:
Indecent contact with a child
Manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter
Online solicitation of a minor who is under the age of 14
Improper educator-student relationship
Marijuana drug possession of from 50 to 2,000 pounds
Bigamy (or marriage to more than one person)
first offense stalking
Evading of arrest that involves the death of another person
First-degree felonies are second in seriousness only to capital crimes. A conviction for a first-degree felony carries from 5 to 99 years (or life) in prison, to fines of up to $10,000, and/or to the potential for a sentence of community supervision (if the prison sentence is less than ten years). Common first-degree felonies include:
Solicitation of capital murder
Aggravated assault of a public servant
Attempted capital murder
Aggravated sexual assault against a child
Burglarizing a home with the intent of committing a felony
Causing serious bodily injury to someone who is disabled, a child, or a senior citizen
Trafficking of someone who is younger than 14
Arson of a home that leads to death
Escaping custody when serious bodily injury is involved
Capital felonies are the most serious charges in the State of Texas, which means that a conviction can lead to life imprisonment or even to the death sentence, and community supervision is never an option. The most common capital felony charges include:
Capital murder, which is premeditated murder
Murder with special circumstances, such as when it is intentional, when more than one person is killed, when a gun is involved, when it is in conjunction with another crime when the person killed is a police officer, or when it is a repeat offense)
Aircraft hijacking that leads to death
Sentencing and Special Considerations
While charges and sentencing seem fairly cut and dry, it’s important to note that the judge can take mitigating circumstances into consideration during sentencing, which can significantly affect the sentence itself in nearly any case. Some of the mitigating factors that can play a role in sentencing include:
The defendant is a first-time offender
If the defendant was an accomplice and not the person who committed the crime
If no one was harmed in the commission of the crime (and the likelihood was low that anyone would have been harmed)
If the defendant committed the crime under great personal stress or duress
If the defendant is genuinely remorseful for his or her criminal action
The Collateral Consequences of a Conviction
If you are convicted of a felony, there is more to it than the very serious fines and penalties that you face. In fact, there are very serious social consequences that can make your life outside of prison far more difficult as well, including:
As a felon, you lose your right to vote.
As a felon, you cannot own, possess, or purchase a gun.
As a felon, you may face considerable difficulty renting an apartment or obtaining a loan to purchase a home.
As a felon, you will not be able to obtain a federal student loan; you may be denied acceptance into a college or university; and if you are accepted, you may not be permitted to live on campus.
As a felon, you could lose your professional licensure.
Probation (also called community supervision in Texas) is a sentencing alternative to jail or prison time that allows those who receive it to remain in the community and to continue working, to continue supporting their families, to receive rehabilitative services (that relate to the original conviction), and to make restitution to anyone who was victimized by their crime. Probation breaks down into the following two classifications:
Deferred adjudication probation
Straight or regular probation
Probation is potentially available for any sentence that is less than ten years in prison. There are certain offenses that cannot, however, be probated, and they are called 3g offenses (because they are located in Section 3g of the Code of Criminal Procedure 42:12). These 3g offenses include:
Aggravated sexual assault
Criminal solicitation cases that are classified as first-degree felonies
Indecency with a child
Sexual performance by a child
Drug crimes in which a child was used in the offense’s commission or in which the offense took place within 1,000 feet of a school or school bus
Injury to a child, a person with a disability, or a senior citizen (if the charge is a first-degree felony)
RELATED READINGS: A Probation Violation is a Serious Charge
Deferred Adjudication Probation
First, a note about deferred adjudication probation (or, more simply, deferred adjudication): deferred adjudication refers to when a judge orders probation and, thus, allows the accused to accept responsibility for the crime he or she was charged with without actually being convicted of the crime in question. Because only a judge can grant deferred adjudication, both the accused and the prosecutor must agree to forego the right to a jury trial. If the defendant is able to successfully complete the terms of the deferred adjudication, there will be no related conviction on his or her record.
Probation is often far preferable to doing time behind bars. If you are facing probation, you have questions, and the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions can help.
What Is the difference between probation and parole?
Probation amounts to being supervised while out in the community instead of serving a sentence in jail. Parole, on the other hand, is supervision in the community that follows serving some of one’s sentence in either jail or prison.
Are there fees associated with probation?
There are court-ordered fees associated with probation that include:
Payment of all fines sentenced
Payment of all court costs
Payment of adult probation fees
Depending upon the circumstances involved in your case, the judge may also order any of the following:
Payment of the legal fees associated with your court-appointed attorney
Payment of restitution to the victim for the damages or losses he or she suffered
These probation-related payments are all court-ordered, which means you must keep up with them in order to fulfill your probation requirements (and avoid jail time). If you need a modification to your payment plan, your probation officer can recommend this to the court.
What is the probation officer’s role?
Your probation officer will fill an important role throughout your probation, which includes answering all your questions (always ask before doing something you’re not sure about because you could be breaking the terms of your probation), referring you to the appropriate resources and classes (including drug and alcohol counseling, employment counseling, literacy preparation, and/or anything else that is deemed appropriate), helping you set up your appointments and more. Your probation officer will supervise you in accordance with the court’s direction and will report back to the court regarding your performance (in relation to probation). Because it is your probation officer’s job to protect the community, he or she may visit you at your home, at your work, and at his or her office. The idea behind probation is to help felons make the positive changes in their lives that are necessary for them to become law-abiding citizens of the State of Texas.
What if I change jobs while on probation?
You need to let your attorney know if you lose your job or change your job as soon as possible after the change occurs.
Can I leave town while on probation?
You will need permission from your probation officer to leave the county in which you received probation. If your travel plans are approved, your probation officer will supply you with a travel permit.
What if I move while on probation?
Again, you’ll need to let your probation officer know if you leave the county, but if you are approved for a move outside of the county, you’ll need to be set up with another probation officer in your new county. You are required to keep your probation officer apprised of where you live at all times by updating your address with him or her (even if you move within the same county).
What about voting?
If you are on probation for a deferred felony, you can continue exercising your right to vote, but if you are on probation for a felony, you cannot. Additionally, you cannot serve on a jury while on probation for a felony.
RELATED READINGS: Probation versus Parole in the state of Texas
Do Not Wait to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Lawyer
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, takes great pride in his impressive track record of defending the rights of clients like you – and helping them obtain their cases’ most favorable resolutions. We’re here for you, too, so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information today.