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Ranges of Punishment Under the Texas Penal Code

July 27, 2022

Most people understand that if a person gets arrested, that person will be charged with a crime (in the vast majority of instances). But, with what exactly will that person be charged? Will it be a misdemeanor or a felony? What will be the severity of the potential punishment range? Could that person go to jail or prison? What will be the potential effect on the person’s wallet? The laws contained within the Texas Penal Code can be confusing. The following is a brief overview of the types of criminal charges and potential punishment ranges a person might face as a result of an arrest. [Note: this entry only discusses the ranges of possible incarceration and amounts of fines for each level of offense. Community supervision and other alternative punishments are discussed in other entries.]

Misdemeanors

Class C

This is the lowest-level criminal charge existing in Texas jurisprudence. The maximum penalty for a Class C misdemeanor is a $500fine. One can be arrested for a Class C, but one cannot be sentenced to jail or prison as a result of a guilty verdict at trial or a plea bargain agreement. Many Class C offenses are traffic violations under the Texas Transportation Code, but there are some under the Texas Penal Code, such as Theft under $100 and Assault –Offensive Touching.

Class B

Moving up on the scale of severity, Class B misdemeanors carry with them a possible punishment range of up to 180 days in county jail and/or up to a $2,000 fine. If a person has previously been convicted of a Class B offense (or another higher offense), then the minimum punishment of incarceration begins at 30 days. Examples of Class B misdemeanors are Possession of Marijuana (less than 2 ounces) and Driving While License Invalid. [Note: A District Attorney’s Office can, at its discretion, “abandon” any enhancement to a punishment range at the time of a plea bargain. This is true for Class B misdemeanors as well as for all of the following types of offenses discussed in this entry.]

Class A

This is the highest level of misdemeanor in Texas. Class A misdemeanors carry with them a possible punishment range of up to 365days in county jail and/or up to a $4,000 fine. If a person has previously been convicted of a Class A offense (or another higher offense), then the minimum punishment of incarceration begins at 90 days. Examples of Class A misdemeanors are Assault–Family Member and Driving While Intoxicated –2nd Offense.

Felonies

State Jail Felony

This is the lowest level felony in Texas. (Some jurisdictions in the United States call this a 4thDegreeFelony.)However, ALL felonies –regardless of level –are extremely serious and should be fought and defended against as such. Being convicted of ANY felony can affect a person’s voting rights, gun rights, and carry a host of other negative consequences. The range of punishment for a state jail felony is between six (6) months and two (2) years in a state jail facility (think: lower-level prison) and up to a $10,000 fine. Examples of state jail felonies are Credit Card Abuse and Possession of a Controlled Substance Less than a Gram.

Third Degree Felony

The next most severe level of felony in Texas is a Third Degree Felony. The range of punishment for a third degree felony is no less than two (2) years and no more than 10 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Institutional Division (think: big-boy prison) and up to a $10,000 fine. Examples of third degree felonies are Evading Arrest in a Motor Vehicle and Felon in Possession of a Firearm.

Second Degree Felony

Moving up the severity scale, the next most serious felony in Texas is a Second Degree Felony. The range of punishment for a second degree felony is no less than two (2) years and no more than 20 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice –Institutional Division and up to a $10,000 fine. Examples of second degree felonies are Burglary of a Habitation and Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon.

First Degree Felony

The highest level of felony in Texas is a First Degree Felony. The range of punishment for a first degree felony is no less than five(5) years and no more than 99years(or life)in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice –Institutional Division and up to a $10,000 fine. Examples of first degree felonies are Murder and Aggravated Robbery.

As mentioned at the beginning of this entry, the above is a general overview of the possible range of incarceration and fine for each level of offense under the Texas Penal Code. This presentation does not take into account a person’s criminal history –which can be used to enhance punishment ranges –nor does it discuss certain carve-outs to the Code, such as Capital Murder or Continuous Sexual Assault of a Child(among other offenses), which have their own special ranges of punishment. It is ALWAYS smart to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney in the event that a person is accused of a crime.