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Crimes and their corresponding punishments vary widely in Texas based on factors such as the crime in question and a defendant’s history. Other factors can also come into play. Texas, among other states in the U.S., have sentencing guidelines that establish rational as well as consistent sentencing practices. Determinate sentencing helps to determine the punishments assigned to specific crimes.
Sentencing is based on the category/level an offense falls into. Below is a discussion of the least serious offenses (misdemeanors) put into different classes (A, B, and C), based on severity.
Misdemeanors in Texas attract up to a year in local/county jail. They are categorized into three classes as per the Texas Penal Code 12.03. Felonies (more serious crimes) attract longer jail terms and more serious punishments, including death in the most severe cases.
Class C misdemeanors in Texas
Individuals found guilty of committing Class C misdemeanors don’t face any jail time. However, they can face fines up to $500. While Class C misdemeanors are the lowest class of petty offenses and they don’t attract a jail term, perpetrators can be heard in Traffic court, Justice of Peace Court, or Municipal court.
Most traffic violations and tickets fall under Class C misdemeanors. Any misdemeanor that isn’t classified or lacks a specific punishment is assumed to be Class C.
Examples include, but aren’t limited to: Traffic citations, gambling, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, bail jumping, simple assault, using laser pointers, issuing a bad/hot check (for under $20), shoplifting/petty theft of items worth less than $50, possession of tobacco or alcohol as a minor, DUI as a minor, possessing drug paraphernalia, leaving a minor alone inside a car, possessing alcoholic beverages/drinks in a vehicle.
Class B misdemeanors in Texas
Individuals found guilty of committing Class B misdemeanors face a maximum of 180 days in jail (county) and/or fines not exceeding $2,000. Class B misdemeanors can attract additional sentences such as two years of probation or three years and an extension.
First-time Class B misdemeanor offenders can get deferred adjudication, which means that before trial, a defendant can take a plea deal or no contest. After the specified probation period is completed successfully, the defendant can have their case dismissed, and no criminal conviction will be entered.
Common examples of Class B offenses include, but aren’t limited to prostitution, indecent exposure, Driving While Intoxicated (as a first offense), marijuana possession (not more than 2 ounces), prank calling/silent calling 911, rioting, intentionally lying to law enforcement, harassment, making a terror threat/s, criminal trespassing and presenting a fake/fraudulent degree.
Class A misdemeanors in Texas
These misdemeanors are the most serious type. They attract up to a year in jail and/or fines up to $4,000. A guilty verdict can also attract other punishments such as a maximum of two years’ probation or three years and an extension. Class A misdemeanors are covered under Texas Penal Code 12.21.
Common examples include, but aren’t limited to perjury (lying under oath), burglarizing a vehicle or coin-operated machine, etc.), Driving while intoxicated as a second offense, public lewdness, assault resulting in bodily injury, promotion of gambling, possessing marijuana (2-4 ounces), jumping bail (for misdemeanor offenses), resisting arrest, obscenity, animal cruelty, stealing a check, evading arrest (on foot), escaping custody for a misdemeanor offense, violating protective orders, unlawfully possession of a weapon and interfering with 911 calls.
Special misdemeanor sentencing
While the above jail time and fine information applies to different misdemeanor classes, special sentencing may apply depending on different circumstances i.e., if the offense is repeated, if an offense had elements of prejudice or bias, or drugs were used to commit the crime.
Repeat offenses attract stiffer penalties. Persons with a prior Class A misdemeanor conviction face mandatory jail time (90 days in county jail). Repeat Class B misdemeanors attract a minimum sentence of a month in jail. If offenses are committed with controlled substances or drugs involved, Class A charges will attract at least 180-days in jail. Offenses motivated by prejudice or bias attract a mandatory 180-day sentence.
Common misdemeanors in Texas
Some misdemeanors are more common than others. Examples of common misdemeanors in Texas include; petty theft, Driving While Intoxicated as a first offense, drug crimes such as (possession of tiny amounts of controlled substances, weapon possession offenses, and disorderly conduct.
In some cases, misdemeanors can be appropriate for crimes that don’t involve significant property damage, property loss or violence. Sentencing happens after conviction and will most often be decided by a judge. In some cases, juries suggest sentencing guidelines that judge can consider if a jury is deciding the case.
Sealing or expunging misdemeanor records in Texas
Persons found guilty of misdemeanors have those conviction records entered into their records. However, misdemeanor records can be expunged or removed in Texas. Having a criminal record comes with many challenges. For instance, it can be a difficult securing a job. Most employers check criminal records before employing someone. It’s, therefore, in the best interests of anyone to have a clean record or have misdemeanor records expunged or sealed.
The process can start immediately after arrest. It can also take place after a case dismissal or acquittal. There is a waiting period for records to become eligible for expunction. Other requirements also apply, such as the absence of current criminal charges/proceedings.
Class C misdemeanors are eligible for expunging 180 days after the day of arrest while Class A & B misdemeanors are eligible for expunging a year after the day of arrest.
Convicted persons must follow court processes i.e., petitioning the court to issue a special order (order of nondisclosure). This process usually requires convicted persons to complete community service, among other court-mandated programs.
The Texas Criminal Code 55 highlights all the requirements that must be met for arrest records to be expunged in Texas. The Texas Government Code 411.081 highlights all the requirements that must be met before conviction records are sealed.
To have your records sealed/expunged as soon as possible, it’s important to talk to a lawyer specialized in criminal records.