If you’ve been charged with a crime in Texas, you should know precisely how that crime is classified according to the Texas Penal Code. These codes vary by state, so it’s vital for you to understand what you’re facing and to get in touch with a criminal defense attorney.
Crimes are carefully classified so that their punishments are sentenced correctly and justly. Lawbreaking is divided into two categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are less severe than felonies but are still punishable by fines and imprisonment.
This article is no substitute for checking the full code but serves as an overview of what crimes are classified as felonies in Texas.
Types of Felonies in Texas
Texas felonies are categorized by most severe to least. The state classifies these into five types: capital felonies (the most serious), first degree felonies, second-degree felonies, third-degree felonies, and state jail felonies. We’ll examine each of these and give some examples and punishments.
The most severe crime in this category is capital murder. Capital murder is first-degree murder with a specific set of conditions, including
- The murder of a police officer or firefighter while performing their duties, with the knowledge that they are a police officer or firefighter;
- The murder occurs while committing a kidnapping, arson, burglary, terrorist threat, aggravated sexual assault, or obstruction/retaliation
- The murder was a paid project: both the murderer and the person who hired them can be guilty of capital murder
- The murder occurred during an attempted prison break
- The victim was a corrections officer, and the murderer was incarcerated
- The murder was committed by a person imprisoned for aggravated sexual assault, aggravated robbery, or aggravated kidnapping
- The victim was a child under ten years old
- The victim was a judge or justice, and the murder was retaliatory
- Capital felonies can bring a penalty of life imprisonment or death.
An example of a capital murder case is State v. Manual Watson, Cause No. 2016CR8276B. In that high-profile murder case, Mr. Watson was accused of shooting a seven year old girl, as well as her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Watson was also charged with two Aggravated assault with Deadly Weapon cases. As of May 28th, 2019, all three cases were DISMISSED. Robert Gebbia was Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC’s lead counsel for Mr. Watson.
Some examples of first-degree felonies in Texas include (but are not limited to):
- Solicitation of capital murder
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Causing serious bodily injury to a child, elderly person, or disabled person
- Escape from custody with serious bodily injury
- Aggravated assault of a public servant
- Aggravated kidnapping
- Trafficking of children under the age of fourteen
- Arson of a habitation
- Burglary of a habitation with the intent to commit or with the commission of a felony
- Aggravated robbery
These crimes can carry a punishment of life imprisonment, imprisonment for 5-99 years, and fines of up to $10,000. The penalty is dependent on the particular offense and the offender’s criminal history. An example of an aggravated sexual assault case is State vs. Marcus Cooper, where Mr. Cooper was acquitted by a jury after being accused of being a serial rapist. Joseph Hoelscher, Managing Attorney of Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC, won a “Not Guilty” verdict despite video evidence of an alleged assault, two alleged victims’ testimony in court, police eye witnesses, and a video taped police interrogation of Mr. Cooper after his arrest.
Some examples of second-degree felonies in Texas include (but are not limited to):
- Online solicitation of a minor under the age of 14
- Human trafficking
- Indecent contact with a child
- Manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter
- Marijuana possession (50-2000 lbs)
- Aggravated Assault
- Second offense stalking
Punishment for second-degree felonies ranges from 2-20 years in prison, and a maximum fine of $10,000. The offender may qualify for community supervision (probation). An example of a second degree felony is the intoxication manslaughter case State vs. Joshua Watson, in which Mr. Watson was accused of drunkenly driving a vehicle into a stock pond, causing the drowning death of his passenger. Mr. Watson’s case was DISMISSED after retaining Joseph Hoelscher, author of Texas Drunk Driving Law and Managing Attorney of Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC.
Some examples of third-degree felonies in Texas include (but are not limited to):
- Aggravated perjury
- Bail jumping after arrested for a felony
- Deadly conduct while using a firearm
- Escape from custody after being arrested for a felony
- Indecent exposure to a child
- Intoxication assault
- Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
- DWI (third offense)
- Evidence tampering Violating a protective order (third offense)
Punishment for third-degree felonies ranges from 2-10 years in prison, and a maximum fine of $10,000. The offender may qualify for community supervision (probation).
State Jail Felony
This classification came about in 1993 to address jail overcrowding that stemmed from extensive drug crime prosecution. It is the lowest level felony and has special rules covering release and punishment. These crimes can be punished as a Class A misdemeanor, depending on the person’s criminal history.
Some examples of state jail felonies are (but not limited to):
- Credit card abuse
- Check forgery
- Evading arrest in a vehicle
- ID theft or fraud
- Child custody interference
- Unauthorized use of a vehicle
Sentences for state jail felonies range from six months to two years in a state jail, and a maximum fine of $10,000. The offender may qualify for community supervision (probation).
State jail felonies can be classified up to a third-degree felony in cases where the accused used or showed a deadly weapon during the commission of the offense, during an escape after the crime was committed, or knew that the deadly weapon would be used or showed during the crime.
If a person has two prior state jail convictions, their third offense will be re-classified as a third-degree felony. If a person used or showed a firearm during their state jail offense and has a previous felony conviction, the crime will be reclassified as a second-degree felony.
State jail felony punishment varies drastically depending on the circumstances and prior criminal activity. While legal help is always advisable, these felonies require competent legal help to decipher the nuances of your options.
Texas Death Row
Many states have abolished capital punishment in recent years, but Texas is not one of them. There are currently 219 inmates awaiting execution, and the average time on death row for these people is just under 16 years.
As of May 10, 2019, five of these inmates have a scheduled execution date. Six of the 219 offenders are women, and 44 percent of Texas’s death row inmates are black.
What to Do If You’re Charged with a Felony
If you are charged with a felony, get legal help as quickly as you can. Navigating any legal system can be confusing and scary, so it’s essential to hire a lawyer to help you. We are knowledgeable about what crimes count as felonies in Texas, how to defend felonies, and can provide legal advice and representation.
Being charged with a felony not only risks prison time and fines, but convicted felons are subject to extensive restrictions set out by Texas codes, the Texas Constitution, the Texas Administrative Code, court rules, and Vernon’s Civil Statutes. These restrictions range from employment-related rules to the ability to get business licenses.
Contact us to get the help you need. Good people can make mistakes, and it’s our job to help them through it.