A, B, C, and 1, 2, 3… these elementary letters and numbers sound basic enough, but what do they mean in terms of criminal law? Let’s talk about misdemeanors and felonies. What is the difference between the two criminal charges, what do the respective punishments entail, and which of them is more serious?
A misdemeanor is a criminal charge that involves less serious offenses than felonies. Although the punishment is far less for a misdemeanor, the lasting impact of a conviction can follow one around for years. If incarceration is part of the disposition, it is in a county facility (i.e. county jail) rather than a prison setting. The majority of misdemeanor case dispositions, if not dismissed, will include community service, fines, and probation, rather than actual time in jail.
Texas has three grades of misdemeanor charges that all carry different degrees of punishments for the defendant (the accused):
- Class A: The most serious of all misdemeanor charges. Punishments include up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Examples of a Class A misdemeanor would include Assault/Family Violence, Possession of Marijuana between 2-4 ounces, Driving While Intoxicated (with a prior conviction), and Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon.
- Class B: Charges at this level are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000. Examples of a Class B misdemeanor charges are Driving While Intoxicated (first offense), Theft of Property (shoplifting) with a value of $100.00 - $750.00, and Reckless Driving.
- Class C: The least serious charge of the three, this misdemeanor typically involves no jail time and has a statutory maximum fine of $500.
It is worth noting that any misdemeanor which is not designated by the legislature as a Class A, B, or C misdemeanor is automatically considered a Class C.
Let’s talk about felonies. These crimes are the most serious and, like misdemeanors, have varying degrees of severity depending on the offense.
- Capitol Felony: This offense carries only two potential options for punishment–life in prison or the death penalty. This grade offense is reserved for Capitol Murder–which is the murder of more than one individual, a child, a public servant or murder committed in concert with another felony offense (e.g. sexual assault, kidnapping).
- First Degree Felony: If one is found guilty of a First Degree Felony offense (which includes Aggravated Robbery, Murder, Aggravated Kidnapping, Aggravated Sexual Assault), one could be sentenced in the range of a minimum of 5 years and up to a maximum of 99 years or life in the prison (the Texas Department of Criminal Justice institutional division) and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000.00. In many instances, one can receive probation (community supervision) for a first-degree felony offense–especially if they have no prior criminal convictions.
- Second Degree Felony: The punishment range for a second-degree felony offense is minimum of 2 years and up to a maximum of 20 years or life in the prison (the Texas Department of Criminal Justice institutional division) and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000.00. Again, in a second-degree felony charge, if the case is not dismissed in or the attorney negotiates a reduction in charge, probation is an option for disposition. Second-degree felony offenses in Texas can include Aggravated Assault, Kidnapping, Intoxication Manslaughter, and many controlled substance charges (dependent on the weight of the substance).
- Third Degree Felony: If one is found guilty of a third-degree felony in Texas, the legislature has mandated a punishment range of minimum of 2 years and up to a maximum of 10 years in prison and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000.00. Offenses in this category include Evading Arrest with a Vehicle and some controlled substance cases.
- State Jail Felony: The State Jail Felony offense is the most recent creation by the Texas Legislature and added an additional grade of offense to the traditional felony classifications. These contain the least serious and non-violent felony offenses. It is still a felony grade offense, and if one is convicted, that “convicted felon” stigma is carried with them forever. The punishment range for this offense is a minimum of 180 days and up to a maximum of 2 years in the State Jail Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as well as an optional fine not to exceed $10,000.00. The State Jail Division is less punitive in nature and more rehabilitative.
Any arrest should be dealt with seriously, for the effects can be long-lasting. As soon as one is arrested, it is paramount that person selects the most competent attorney to aggressively set out their defense.