Criminal Law

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Laws & Penalties in Texas Criminal Courts

As you prepare to fight felony or misdemeanor criminal charges in Texas, it’s important to know the possible penalties if you are convicted. Sentencing can range from fines to probation to time in a Texas prison or county jail.

Here, we’ll give you an overview of how sentencing works in Texas and what you can expect if you are convicted of a crime. You can also find information about specific offenses such as DWI, assault and drug possession in our directory of criminal charges.

First, you should understand the difference between felony and misdemeanor criminal charges, which are defined by the Texas Penal Code.

Felony v. Misdemeanor Penalties for Criminal Charges in Texas

A felony is a serious criminal offense for which you can be fined up to $10,000 and be sentenced to a state penitentiary for a period of between six months and life. You also may lose your right to vote, have a gun or obtain certain state occupational licenses. Felonies include aggravated assault, burglary and DWI, third offense.

FELONY PENALTY

Capital - Death or life in prison without parole;

First-degree - 5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000;

Second-degree - 2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000;

Third-degree - 2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000;

State jail - 180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or a fine of not more than
$10,000.

A misdemeanor is a less serious criminal offense for which you can be fined $4,000 or less and be sentenced to county jail for up to one year. You do not lose any civil rights for a misdemeanor conviction. Misdemeanors include simple assault, theft and DWI, first or second offense.

There are three classes of misdemeanor – A. B and C – and five categories of felony.

MISDEMEANORPENALTY

Class A - Not more than 1 year in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than
$4,000;

Class B - Not more than 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than
$2,000;

Class C - A fine of not more than $500.

As you can see, the penal code sets broad sentencing guidelines for each class and degree of criminal charge. Exact sentences are generally up to the judge, with recommendations from the prosecutor and, in certain cases, from the jury.

How Criminal Sentencing Works in Texas Courts

The judge will typically settle on a sentence one of three ways:

  1. If the prosecution has a strong case, we may make a plea deal on your behalf, usually for a lesser crime with a sentencing recommendation. For example, your charge might be a second-degree felony, but the prosecutor would agree to drop it to a third-degree felony or even a misdemeanor and seek minimal prison time if you agree to enter a guilty plea to the lesser charge. The judge can accept the deal, or refuse, in which case you can withdraw your guilty plea.
  2. In cases that go to trial, the jury can make sentencing recommendations, which the judge must follow. You have the right to choose before trial whether you want the jury to decide the punishment if you are convicted. Before jurors decide, we will have a chance to present character witnesses and mitigating evidence on your behalf.
  3. Or, in the absence of a plea agreement or jury recommendation, the judge may impose sentencing himself. The judge will order a pre-sentence investigation which details your criminal and social history, the facts of the crime and the state’s recommended community supervision plan. We will also have a chance to add comments to the report arguing for leniency.

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure requires that the sentence be handed out in your presence, so the judge will set a sentencing hearing for that purpose.

Will I have to go to jail on my criminal charges?

Frankly, the sentence for a conviction will depend on your previous record, the details of the case and the judge making the decision. We will always seek the least possible sentence, whether in making a plea deal or arguing the case before the judge during sentencing hearings.

In many cases, probation is an option, especially if it is your first conviction.

Probation, or community supervision, is the suspension of your county jail or Texas prison sentence on the understanding that you meet certain requirements set by the court. Typically, you will have to report to a community supervision officer on a regular basis, hold a steady job, pay fines and restitution and allow regular inspections of your home.

Community supervision sentences can run up to two years for misdemeanors and up to 10 years for felonies. If you meet all the conditions, you may be eligible to apply for early release from probation after serving at least one-third of the term.

You may not be eligible for probation or a suspended sentence if your original prison sentence is more than 10 years, if you have previously been convicted of a felony, or if you are convicted of a violent offense such as capital murder, indecency with a child or aggravated robbery, known as 3g offenses for the section of the Code where they are listed.

For serious or repeat felonies, you almost certainly will have to spend some time in county jail or a Texas prison. The sentences can be cumulative, meaning when one ends, the next one begins, or concurrent, meaning you would serve all of the sentences at the same time. You will receive credit for any time spent in jail awaiting trial.

Confinement could be as simple as house arrest or weekends in jail, or as difficult as a long-term sentence in a medium-security or maximum-security Texas prison. For county jail and state prison sentences, you earn time toward an early release with good behavior. You also can apply for parole after serving at least one-quarter of your sentence on most criminal charges.

Whatever the case, we will work with you to make sure you don’t face conviction and sentencing on criminal charges in Texas without a fight, and we will make sure you understand the stakes every step of the way.

 Aggressive Texas criminal defense attorney:

Have you been accused of committing a crime?  Don’t let the prosecution bully you around.  Stand up for your rights.  Start by hiring a dedicated criminal defense attorney who will represent you forcefully in the face of prosecution accusations.

 Ensuring Your Freedom

I am devoted to protecting my clients’ freedom. I strongly challenge prosecution efforts to prove their case, and do everything in my power to avoid conviction or reduce any sentence that might be imposed. I know that witnesses may lie on the stand, crime scenes can be tampered with, and police officers can make mistakes. I personally speak with witnesses to ensure that they are telling the whole truth. I can examine the alleged crime scene thoroughly, searching for evidence to help prove your innocence. I also pore over police records and bring in experts to challenge the prosecution’s theories.

 Nothing is more important than your freedom. If you need a defense attorney who is dedicated to your case, contact me today.

 Protecting Our Clients;

I represent clients in the following criminal matters:

 Felonies

If you have been charged with a felony, it is essential that you retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to zealously defend you in court. Felonies are the most serious crimes — such as murder, rape, armed robbery, credit card fraud and burglary. Felony convictions also have the most serious consequences. A person convicted of a felony is sentenced to serve at least one year in a state or federal prison, and may be committed for life. In addition, convicted felons are stripped of many of the rights guaranteed to American citizens, including the right to vote, the right to travel out of the country and the right to own a gun. Convicted felons also have to disclose their crimes on job applications and can be deported if they are not American citizens.

 How your felony charge is defended can make the difference between life and death for you.  I am committed to attaining the best possible outcome for you.

 Misdemeanors

Misdemeanors are crimes such as disorderly conduct, simple assault, shoplifting and trespassing that are punishable by less than a year in prison.  Although misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, having a misdemeanor conviction on your criminal record can limit your employment options and can result in a jail sentence. Ensure that you receive a fair trial by letting me represent you.

 Motor Vehicle Offenses

If you have been charged with operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, driving with a suspended license, or committing vehicular manslaughter, I can help.  I also assist clients who need to get their drivers licenses restored or to fight traffic tickets.

 Drug Crimes

Charges of trafficking, distributing or possession of illegal substances or drug paraphernalia can result in heavy fines and extended time in jail. You can rely on my knowledge of drug crimes and my history of successful results to help eliminate or minimize the charges against you.

 Sexual Offenses

Rape and sexual assault cases are among the hardest for defendants to win.  I have the experience and skills to successfully litigate these cases.

 Sealing and Expungement of Records

A criminal record can prevent you from pursuing higher education, securing your dream job or traveling abroad. I can help you eliminate past criminal charges from your record, or get those records sealed so that you can move on with your life.

 Don’t delay.  Contact George C. Ruiz in San Antonio today.  

When your freedom is on the line, choose a criminal defense attorney with the experience and dedication to make a difference.  Call (210) 701-0960 to schedule your free initial consultation.