Updated on May 1, 2023
Felony charges are extremely serious, but many people fail to recognize the significance of a misdemeanor charge. If you are charged with a misdemeanor in the state of Texas, you may think, how bad can it be? It’s just a misdemeanor.
This is the wrong attitude to take.
A misdemeanor conviction can have serious consequences that lead to considerable fines, harsh penalties, and a decrease in social standing. Keeping your record clean is the goal, and, if you are facing a misdemeanor charge, taking the matter seriously from the outset is well advised.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, it is essential to contact a Killeen criminal defense lawyer right away. A lawyer can help you understand your charges, the legal implications, and the best path forward for your defense.
Better acquainting yourself with misdemeanor charges will provide you with a more comprehensive understanding of exactly what is at stake when you face such charges.
Misdemeanors: Where They Stand in the Criminal Charge Lineup
Under Texas law, there are three levels of crimes that include infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.
Infractions are those charges that are not serious enough for the accused to be arrested, and they do not result in time behind bars. Examples include some traffic violations, such as running a stop sign, jaywalking, and disturbing the peace with loud music at a party. Infractions are punished by fines and not by jail sentences.
The next level of criminal charge in Texas is the misdemeanor, which usually leads to fines and can come with jail sentences. It is important to note that there are limits to the fines and the amount of time behind bars associated with misdemeanor convictions:
The fines top out at $4,000.
The jail sentence cannot exceed one year, and any incarceration is local, which means at the county jail (or even under house arrest) instead of the state penitentiary.
Misdemeanors are the most common criminal charges, and their classification indicates that they do not involve serious violence or any major property damage.
Felonies are the most serious criminal charges, and a conviction leads to imprisonment in the state penitentiary.
This puts misdemeanors squarely in the middle of the scale of criminal charges. However, a conviction can still have long-lasting and overarching consequences that make fighting for your rights and for your case’s best possible resolution worth the effort.
The Levels of Misdemeanors
There are three levels of misdemeanors in Texas. A Class C misdemeanor is unlikely to garner many legal consequences beyond a fine, but Class B and Class A convictions can lead to serious, long-lasting consequences.
Class A Misdemeanors
Class A misdemeanor charges are levied only against the most serious misdemeanor offenses. Class A misdemeanor convictions are punishable with up to one year in jail and with up to a $4,000 fine.
Some of the most common examples of Class A misdemeanor charges include the following crimes:
Assault causing bodily injury, unless it is in self-defense
Assault involving a family member, which includes both causing and threatening bodily harm
Third-offense DWI, which is driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than .08 percent
Carrying a gun without a permit (Read “New Texas Law Allows People to Carry Handguns Without Getting a State License.”)
Class B Misdemeanors
Class B misdemeanors can lead to arrest with an accusation. (Learn more about what to do if you get arrested.) The maximum penalty for conviction of a Class B misdemeanor is up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.
Some of the most common examples of Class B misdemeanor charges include the following crimes:
Criminal trespass (things like hazing and thrill-seeking often qualify)
Criminal mischief, which is tampering with or damaging private property
First-offense DWI, which is driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than .08 percent
Failure to pay child support, which can progress all the way to a felony
Possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, including plants, dried leaves, seeds, joints, or any other form of marijuana
Class C Misdemeanors
Any misdemeanor that does not reach the level of Class A or Class B and that has no specific punishment (other than a fine) is a Class C misdemeanor. A conviction for a Class C misdemeanor is punishable by fines of up to $500 (with no possibility of jail time).
Some of the most common examples of Class C misdemeanor charges include:
Possession of drug paraphernalia, which is any tool used in relation to controlled substances.
Disorderly conduct, including actions such as public fighting and indecent exposure
Public intoxication, which is having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than .08 percent in public
Some traffic violations, such as speeding or driving with an invalid license
Theft of property that is worth less than $100
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor of any class, contact a Killeen criminal defense attorney right away. He or she can help you understand your rights and proceed with your case in the best way possible.
The Statute of Limitations
The law is not without limits when it comes to charging you with a crime, including misdemeanors. In the State of Texas, the statute of limitations (or time limit) for bringing a misdemeanor charge is generally two years from the date of alleged commission. (Read more about how long an indictment will take.)
Misdemeanors and Your Rights
A misdemeanor conviction can seriously affect your rights, and such consequences need to be taken into careful consideration.
A Misdemeanor and Your Right to Drive
You do not have a constitutional right to drive, which means that your driving privileges can be revoked by the government at its discretion. You can lose your driver’s license for the following three categories of misdemeanor charges:
For a misdemeanor drug offense like possession, you can face a driver’s license suspension of up to 180 days, and this suspension can happen regardless of whether or not the crime involves your car. In addition to the suspension, you will likely also be required to complete a drug education course before you can have your license reinstated.
A DWI conviction can lead to a license suspension of up to two years. To make matters more precarious, your driver’s license can also be automatically suspended for refusing to take (or for failing) a roadside sobriety test.
Even Class C traffic violations (when they accumulate) can lead to a suspended driver’s license. In Texas, if you receive four or more violations within a twelve-month stretch or seven or more within a twenty-four-month stretch, it can lead to an automatic driver’s license suspension.
One final note is that driving on a suspended license is, in and of itself, a minimum of a Class C misdemeanor charge, which can lead to steeper fines, an extension of your suspension, and even arrest in some instances.
A Misdemeanor and Your Right to Bear Arms
Texas is a strong proponent of the constitutional right to bear arms. However, Texas also takes criminal charges seriously, and it will strip you of your right to own a gun without batting an eye. While you may recognize that those accused of felonies lose gun possession rights, you may not know that even being charged with certain misdemeanors can restrict your Second Amendment rights.
Those charges that can leave you without your Second Amendment rights include DWI, disorderly conduct, and assault. If you are charged with a Class A or B misdemeanor of any kind, your License to Carry (LTC) will be suspended automatically. This provision also extends to certain Class C misdemeanors that involve disorderly conduct, including the following crimes:
Blatantly behaving in an offensive matter that breaches the peace
Publicly threatening or otherwise abusing people
If you are either formally acquitted of the charge in question or the prosecutor drops the charge against you, your LTC will be restored automatically. If, on the other hand, you plead your case down through deferred adjudication or deferred disposition—or if you are convicted—your LTC will be revoked for a full five years, and you can reapply at that point.
A Misdemeanor and Your Right to Visitation
When the court makes decisions about children, they base them on the best interests of the children. If you have a misdemeanor conviction under your belt, it can affect the visitation you are afforded by the court.
Because children’s well-being can be seriously affected by so many different variables, the kind of misdemeanor charge that may or may not make a difference in your custody case is not clearly defined. Instead, it is up to the judge’s discretion to determine if your conviction is relevant to your children’s ongoing best interests and if it should affect your right to visitation.
Some of the charges that are most likely to play a role in visitation rights include the following crimes:
Assault (especially when family-based)
If you are facing misdemeanor charges, you should take the potential consequences extremely seriously. Even being charged with a misdemeanor can affect your rights, and recognizing what you are up against is essential. Contact a Killeen criminal defense attorney to create a strong defense that will help you avoid the negative consequences of misdemeanor charges.
Misdemeanor Charges: FAQ
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, you probably have serious questions. Reviewing the answers to some of the questions that are asked most frequently can help.
Shouldn’t I Just Pay the Fine and Move On?
Many people who are accused of a misdemeanor are tempted to put it behind them as fast as they can by paying the fine (when there’s no jail time involved) and moving on. However, by doing so, you may not really be moving on. Having a misdemeanor conviction on your record can have serious implications that can haunt you into your future:
The conviction can affect your ability to find a job.
The conviction can affect your professional licensure.
The conviction can affect your ability to rent a home.
The conviction can affect your ability to obtain a loan and purchase a home.
The conviction can affect your ability to obtain a student loan, live on campus, and even gain acceptance into the college or university of your choice.
Do I Really Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?
A common misconception about misdemeanors is that they are no big deal, but the harsh ramifications of a conviction can haunt your future, leave you with a diminished social standing, and generally make your life more difficult. If you are facing a misdemeanor charge, you owe it to yourself and to your future to reach out to an accomplished criminal defense attorney.
While no one can make you hire a criminal defense attorney, your legal rights and the serious negative consequences of a conviction make leaving your case to chance a dicey proposition.
Having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side can help you build up a solid defense and can even save you money in the long run. Your attorney will engage in all the following actions to help construct your strongest defense and pursue your case’s optimal outcome:
Carefully examining all the prosecution’s evidence
Investigating the circumstances involved in your alleged crime in search of exculpatory evidence, which generally means evidence that disproves the prosecution’s theories
Helping you understand your best options for your unique situation
Negotiating with the prosecution to have your charges dropped or reduced, to have your sentencing requirements decreased, or to effect a plea deal that is beneficial to you
What Should I Do When Charged with a Misdemeanor?
If you are charged with a misdemeanor, the first order of business is remembering your right to remain silent. Do not give the police something to use against you by getting chatty.
Once you have identified yourself and answered any similar administrative questions (if asked), it is time to ask for a criminal defense attorney. Your rights to remain silent and to have an attorney on your side were put in place to help protect you, and you are well-advised to invoke both of them.
How Is a Misdemeanor Different from Other Charges?
Misdemeanor charges fall in between infractions and felonies. A misdemeanor charge can lead to serious fines of up to $4,000 and to a jail sentence of not more than one year. While a misdemeanor does not reach the level of a felony, it can leave you with a permanent criminal record and serious consequences that you may not have even considered.
What If I’m Guilty?
While it is exceedingly ill-advised to engage in criminal activity of any kind, the question is whether the state can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. If not, they cannot find you guilty, which is the preferred outcome.
What If I Receive Probation?
Many people think of probation as a slap on the wrist and believe it is a great resolution to the problem at hand, but this is a short-sighted approach. For one, probation is not easy to fulfill, and for another, probation amounts to a conviction on your record, which is far from ideal. Consider the following common conditions of probation:
You may be required to report to a supervisor on a regular basis for up to three years.
You may be required to submit to random searches of your home, car, or person.
You may be required to submit to random and unannounced drug and alcohol tests.
You may be required to receive counseling for violent behaviors.
You may be required to maintain steady employment.
You may be required to attend drug and alcohol treatment and counseling.
You may be required to submit to electronic monitoring or to have a breath-testing device installed in your vehicle.
You may be required to perform up to 600 hours of community service.
You may be hit with fines, court costs, and fees for treatment and counseling, victim restitution, and more.
You may be required to obtain the judge’s permission if you want to relocate or travel outside a specific region.
It’s Time to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are facing misdemeanor charges, it is not something that you should take lightly. In fact, the consequences of a conviction are extremely serious and can impact your life in surprisingly negative ways.
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard—proudly serving Killeen, Texas—is a well-respected criminal defense attorney with a wealth of experience guiding criminal cases like yours toward favorable resolutions. We are here to help you, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information today.