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What Is A Felony?

Generally speaking, a felony is a criminal offense that has an accompanying punishment of one-year imprisonment or more. Crimes that are punished by exactly one year or less are misdemeanors. Most felonies are crimes that involve some degree of violence. Felonies are deemed harmful and put society in danger.

Murder, arson, and similar crimes that are associated with acts of violence are classified as felonies.

Classification Of Felonies

In the state of Texas, felonies are classified according to the severity of the crimes. There are five categories of felonies.

Capital Felonies

The most serious type of felonies, capital felonies are punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. In the state of Texas, only the crime of capital murder is considered a capital felony offense. There is no other offense that is classified as a capital felony in Texas.

Capital murder is the most serious criminal homicide in Texas. Criminal homicide is an offense where a person intentionally and knowingly takes the life of another. It becomes capital murder if committed in a particularly extreme manner.

Instances where homicide is classified as capital murder:

  1. Killing a police officer or fireman who is on duty.
  2. Killing a person while the perpetrator is in the process of a jailbreak.
  3. Killing a person who is below 15 years of age.
  4. Contract killings or murder for hire.
  5. The murder of prison guards by inmates.
  6. An inmate killing another inmate while serving a life imprisonment sentence.
  7. Mass murder.
  8. Serial killings.
  9. Killing a court judge.

Homicide that occurs in the course of the commission of certain crimes can also be classified as capital murder. These crimes include kidnapping, arson, burglary, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, and terrorism or threats of terrorism. A homicide that occurs in a crime involving retaliation or threat of retaliation against a public servant also qualifies as capital murder.

In the latter, for example, a person threatens a police officer for having arrested said person and in an ensuing scuffle, a bystander is killed. This may be prosecuted as capital murder.

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Penalty For Capital Felony

A person convicted of a capital felony is either sentenced to life imprisonment or to death. If the person is below 18 they may be sentenced to life imprisonment with possibility of parole. If they are 18 or older, it can only be life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The prosecutor has the discretion on whether or not to prosecute for the death penalty. Anyone below the age of 18 cannot be sentenced to death.

A death penalty sentence is not something that the law takes lightly. It must be unanimously agreed upon by the jury. If a unanimous decision is not reached, the death penalty cannot apply and the sentence will only be life imprisonment.

If the prosecution is pushing for life imprisonment, the jury only needs to have 10 out of 12 jurors with findings of guilt.

How Is The Death Penalty Imposed?

Under Texas law, a convicted felon awaiting execution is held in death row at two state facilities. Female inmates are held at the Mountain view Unit at Gatesville while male inmates are held at the Polunsky Unit at West Livingston. All possible appeals are exhausted before the judge proceeds to set an execution date.

Once the death penalty is imposed, there is an automatic appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Court of Criminal Appeals is superior to the Court of Appeals which is bypassed in death penalty convictions.

If the sentence is affirmed upon appeal, the inmate can avail of other remedies to try and get a review of the case. A habeas corpus motion may be filed to ask the state or federal court to review the person’s incarceration.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles may also recommend commutation of the sentence from death penalty to life imprisonment. The recommendation is forwarded to the Governor of the state who will decide whether or not clemency will be granted. If there is no recommendation from the Board, the Governor has no authority to grant clemency.

The law provides that the execution date must be set 90 days from when it is set. If it is withdrawn but later reinstated, the new date must be set no less than 30 days from resetting.

The execution is carried out by lethal injection with the use of pentobarbital at the Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas.

First-Degree Felonies

First-degree felonies are the second most serious type of crime in the state of Texas. The Penal Code of Texas designates the following crimes as first degree felonies:

  • Murder – Not all murders are capital murders as discussed in the previous section. A first degree felony murder is defined as the “intentional taking” of the life of another while capital murder needs to have the requisites mentioned above.

A person that kills another with the intent to deprive that person of their life commits murder.

  • Attempted capital murder – When all the elements for capital murder are present except that the intended death is not achieved, the crime becomes attempted capital murder.
  • Aggravated kidnapping – This is a crime that involves holding a person with the intent of preventing their release through intimidation through the use of deadly force. Release may also be prevented by holding the person in a place where finding them is unlikely.
  • Aggravated robbery – Under the Texas Penal Code, robbery becomes an aggravated robbery under any of the following circumstances:
  1. If serious bodily injury was inflicted during the commission of the crime.
  2. If the perpetrator used or brandished a deadly weapon.
  3. If they Inflicted or threatened to inflict serious bodily harm to a person who is 65 years old or older or is disabled.
  • Trafficking of persons – This is an offense where the perpetrator intentionally and knowingly does any of the following:
  1. Trafficking a person with the intention of engaging said person in forced labor or services.
  2. Coercing said person to engage in unlawful activities like prostitution or promotion thereof.
  3. Trafficking of a child with the intention of engaging them in conduct of services that are harmful to minors such as sexual contact, prostitution or child pornography.
  4. Reaping the benefits provided by being involved in such acts of trafficking of persons.

Felonies Of The Second Degree

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Second degree felonies are punishable by at least two years up to 20 years of imprisonment in Texas with fines of up to $10,000. Offenses falling under this category are considered mid-range. Individuals convicted of second degree felonies can also be subject to collateral consequences.

These include losing the right to possess firearms, the right to vote, and be disqualified from certain employment opportunities that ban the hiring of convicted felons. The worst and lasting consequence is having a felony conviction on one’s records. This cannot be expunged and will cause issues whenever background checks are required such as in renting houses or looking for jobs.

Some examples of second degree felonies in Texas are:

  • Murder that was committed in the heat of passion – this is when an individual takes the life of another in the heat of the moment, without any premeditation. This can happen when killing a partner who has been caught in the act of infidelity, or in retaliation for rape or abuse.
  • Arson – this offense is committed when a person starts a fire with intent to damage or destroy vegetation, structures, or vehicles under specific circumstances. Arson is also committed when manufacturing illicit substances and causes a fire or explosion.
  • Theft – the crime of theft is considered a second degree felony if it involves an amount between $150,000 and $300,000.

Felonies Of The Third Degree

A third degree felony is punishable by 2 to 10 years’ imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines. Some offenses that are classified as third degree felonies in Texas are:

  • Kidnapping – this crime is committed by an individual who intentionally or knowingly abducts a person. There is no need for there to have been violence or weapons used as long as the victim was taken against their will.
  • Criminal Mischief – The crime of criminal mischief is committed when a person intentionally and knowingly damages tangible property, tampers with such property resulting in pecuniary loss or inconvenience on the part of the owner, or vandalizes the property. Such acts must have been done without the consent of the owner. Criminal mischief is only a third degree felony if the amount of pecuniary loss is between $20,000 and $100,000.

State Jail Felony

A state jail felony in Texas is equivalent to a jail sentence of at least 180 days in jail and up to two years and fines of no more than $10,000. There are several crimes that are categorized as state jail felonies in the Lone Star state. Some of these crimes are:

  • DWI when there is a passenger who is under 16 years of age.
  • Criminally negligent homicide – charged when a person is killed due to negligent acts that are criminal in nature. For example, is homicide due to driving under the influence of alcohol, death caused by a fight, or leaving a child in a hot car causing the latter’s death.
  • Forgery of checks.
  • Theft – if the amount taken is between $1,500 and $20,000.

There are many more types of crimes that may fall under any of these felony categories. The Penal Code of Texas contains all the technicalities on how these classifications are made.

Any one facing felony charges are in danger of suffering the consequences of punishments set by law. If you have been charged of a felony, make sure you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to represent your interests in court.

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