In Texas, criminal offenses are grouped into different categories, with each group having different minimum and maximum punishments. More severe crimes carry greater maximum and minimum punishments. When someone is convicted, the judge must look to the range of punishment prescribed for the particular crime for which the person was convicted. The judge cannot sentence a defendant to a greater punishment than the maximum allowed under the law and cannot sentence a defendant to a lesser punishment than the minimum allowed under the law.
CRIMINAL SENTENCING FAQs
- What Are the Categories of Offense Levels for Crimes in Texas?
- What is “Range of Punishment” in Texas Law?
- What is the Range of Punishment for Misdemeanors? How Much Jail Time Can I Get for a Misdemeanor Conviction?
- What is the Range of Punishment for Felonies? How Much Jail Time Can I Get for a Felony Conviction?
- What Sentence Can I Expect to Get for a Misdemeanor or Felony?
If you are charged with a crime, it is important to know which category of offense the crime is so that you know the minimum and maximum time that you are facing. You can determine what category the crime is by looking up the offense in the Texas Penal Code (or by searching this website). The statute will tell you what the offense category level is and whether or not that particular statute has a greater or lesser minimum and maximum punishment than others under the same level.
Texas criminal law separates crimes into two general categories:
- Misdemeanor Crimes
- Felony Crimes
Misdemeanors are then further classified into three categories:
- Class C Misdemeanors
- Class B Misdemeanors
- Class A Misdemeanors
Felonies are classified into five categories:
- State Jail Felonies
- 3rd Degree Felonies
- 2nd Degree Felonies
- 1st Degree Felonies
- Capital Felonies
Each different subdivision has a different “range of punishment” specified in Section 12 of the Texas Penal Code. Additionally, certain criminal offenses are given additional penalties in the law that creates the offense. This has the effect of limiting or expanding the default range of punishment that the offense would otherwise be carry by virtue of the category of the offense. It is important to note that that the punishment described by the state statute is only the punishment described in one set of state laws–there may be a variety of other federal penalties, civil penalties, or other types of “collateral consequences” described elsewhere in Texas law. And there is always the problem of reputational damage and other types of problems created by criminal prosecutions.
“Range of Punishment” simply means the limitations that a judge or jury would have to abide by in sentencing you. For instance, if the range of punishment is “up to one year in county jail” then the law would prohibit a sentence of two years. Similarly, if the range of punishment is “five to ten years in prison” then the law would prohibit you from being sentenced to less than five years in prison. This removes some discretion from whoever is sentencing you. You can be sentenced to anywhere within the range of punishment, unless there is some other requirement in the law that limits what can happen. There are other possibilities and limitations, as well, including: eligibility for community supervision (formerly known as probation), home incarceration, deferred adjudication, and others. The range of punishment specified under Texas law does not usually speak to these other issues–for that you will have to look elsewhere.
What is the Range of Punishment for Misdemeanors? How Much Jail Time Can I Get for a Misdemeanor Conviction?
Keep in mind the above considerations, most importantly the additional collateral consequences of criminal convictions as well as the fact that some crimes carry specific punishments that exceed the default range of punishment and that federal law may carry different punishments entirely.
Class C Misdemeanors, under Texas state law, carry a default penalty of up to a $500 fine. If you are convicted of a Class B Misdemeanor, you may receive a jail sentence up to 180 days in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. A conviction for a Class A Misdemeanor carries a jail sentence of up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
One common misdemeanor crime that varies this range of punishment is DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). DWI convictions in Texas require a mandatory jail sentence, and sometimes this jail sentence is ineligible to be probated.
Again, keep in mind all of the considerations above that affect or may vary the range of punishment when reading this section. You will need to hire a lawyer to get specific information about the range of punishment in your case.
The penalty for conviction of a first degree felony is specified as 5 to 99 years, or life, imprisonment, and a fine of up to $10,000. A second degree felony conviction requires a penalty of 2 to 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000. Third Degree felony convictions carry a range up punishment of 2 to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
State jail felonies are unique in that punishment is in “state jail.” The range of punishment is 180 days to 2 years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. State jail felonies are a relatively new classification of offense under Texas state law, and the state jail experience can be very different from both prison and county jail.
Capital felonies are the most serious felony crimes in the state of Texas. Convictions for a capital offense require a sentence of either imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for life, life without parole or by death. The only situation in Texas state law in which someone is eligible for a life sentence with a chance of parole is if the state’s attorneys do not seek the death penalty and the person was younger than 18 at the time of the arrest. However, Federal and State Constitutional law may affect the eligibility for particular defendants to receive these most severe penalties.
Some common situations that arise in determining the range of punishment for Texas crimes are enhancements like the habitual felony offender or the repeat felony offender. An offense that is defined as one classification can be kicked up into a higher classification of penalty range by virtue of the criminal history of the defendant. This is a complicated and technical area of law that I will not examine closely in this article, but you should be aware of this issue.
While there is no way to tell ahead of time what sentence you will definitely receive, in many cases, attorneys can predict what is most likely to happen if you go to a particular judge for sentencing. It is much harder to predict what will happen if you go to a jury for sentencing.
Plea bargain deals that you or your attorney makes with the state attorneys may alter the typical sentence that you would most likely otherwise receive from a judge. Also, depending on the county, there may be a standard plea bargain range that you are likely to receive for a particular offense. You should contact an attorney to find out what might be applicable in your area. And in any case, remember that what is “typical” might not apply in your case. There are many reasons why what is “typical” might not apply to you. The only thing that is required by law, and what cannot be waived, is the range of punishment specified by Texas state law.