Infractions, misdemeanors, felonies; what do all of these terms mean in court, or when applied to your criminal conviction? If you’re unfamiliar with the legal system or courts in the United States, these words may sound frightening or overwhelming, but the first step to fighting a conviction is understanding how the legal system categorizes the crime you’ve been accused of, and what your options are going forward.
The United States divides crime into several categories based upon the type of crime, and how serious the crime is considered to be. Any crime committed in the United States falls under either infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies.
An infraction is the least serious type of “crime,” and they are technically considered public offenses, meaning there will be no enforceable jail time, no appearance of a crime on your record, and at most, you’ll pay a small fine. For example, a speeding ticket is an infraction. As long as you pay the fine on the time, that’s all the further you have to worry about these kinds of offenses.
However, if you are charged with a crime that isn’t an infraction, the punishment will be a little more severe than just a fine. In Texas, your conviction will fall under either a misdemeanor or a felony. But what is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, and the impact that either could have on your future?
Misdemeanor crimes are more common than felony charges and usually involve less serious crimes that won’t result in prison time, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. If you’re convicted or accused of a misdemeanor, they can still bring some heavy consequences.
A misdemeanor is a criminal offense that can carry not only a potential jail term up to an entire year, but could also include a combination of jail time and fines, as well as a criminal record that will show up on potential employer applications or background checks. A misdemeanor conviction is less serious than a felony conviction, but it can still have long-term impacts on your ability to pursue your goals, gain fulfilling employment or find housing, and those impacts should not be taken lightly.
If you’re facing a misdemeanor conviction, getting in touch with an experienced criminal attorney is the best first step you could take.
There are three classes of misdemeanors in Texas, varying in severity of crime and punishment.
Class C misdemeanors are the least serious of all the misdemeanor charges, and will involve no jail time for a conviction, but an individual can find themselves with a fine of up to $500. Examples of a Class C misdemeanor include crimes like assault without bodily injury, theft of property valued at less than $20, or producing or selling term papers or reports.
Class B misdemeanors come with heavier consequences, including the possibility of county jail time. Charges at the Class B level conviction include up to 180 days in a county jail, and a fine of up to $2,000. Examples of a Class B misdemeanor include crimes like driving while intoxicated, making terroristic threats, possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana, or theft of property valued at $20 or more, but less than $500.
Class A misdemeanors are the most serious of all the misdemeanor classes, and a conviction can include a punishment of up to a year in a county jail, and a hefty fine of up to $4,000. Examples of a Class A level include crimes like burglary, theft of cable services, stalking without bodily injury, and theft of property valued at $500 or more.
Sentencing for certain circumstances could change the conviction punishment. For example, if you’re a repeat offender and have received a Class A misdemeanor before, there is a required minimum sentencing of 90 days in a county jail after an additional Class A offense. For repeat Class B misdemeanor, you will face a minimum sentence of 30 days in a county jail.
If drugs were used to commit a Class A misdemeanor level crime, there will be a required 180-day minimum sentencing.
Most misdemeanor level crimes do not involve a high degree of property damage or violence.
A felony is a more serious conviction than a misdemeanor, and carries much more severe penalties for conviction, including increased imprisonment terms and higher associated fines. If you’re accused of committing a felony, you’ll want to contact a criminal lawyer right away to help you fight your case to lessen the charges, if not remove them altogether. Felonies can have an even bigger effect on your life long-term than misdemeanors, and should be treated with the upmost seriousness.
While misdemeanors have only 3 classes, felony convictions fall under one of five levels.
State Jail Felony
State jail felonies are still serious convictions, but are the lowest felony class. If lawmakers identify a crime as a felony, but can’t determine what kind felony it is, they will categorize the felony as a state jail felony. State jail felonies are punishable by a minimum of 180 days up to two years in a state jail, in addition to a fine of up to $10,000. Examples of a state jail felony include credit card or debit card abuse or theft of property valued at $1,500 or more, but less than $20,000. If a defendant convicted of a state jail felony is found to have used a deadly weapon during the crime, or has been previously convicted of a felony, the judge may consider classifying the crime as a third-degree felony.
Third-degree felonies are punishable to two to ten years in a state jail, along with a fine of up to $10,000. Examples of a third-degree felony include theft of property valued at $20,000 or more, but less than $100,000, a drive-by shooting with no injuries, or possession of five to 50 pounds of marijuana.
A second-degree felony under Texas law is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison with a maximum of 20 years, along with the possibility of a fine of up to $10,000. Examples of a second-degree felony include theft of property valued at $100,000 or more, but less than $200,000, reckless injury to a child, serious injury to a family member, or aggravated assault.
A third-degree felony could be punished with a life imprisonment sentencing, or between five years and 99 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. Examples of a first-degree felony include theft of property valued at $200,000 or more, aggravated sexual assault, and sexual assault against a child.
A capital felony is the most serious felony an individual can commit, and in Texas, a capital felony can be punishable by death or life without parole. An example of a capital felony includes murder. If the accused is a juvenile at the time capital felony crime was committed, they can choose to not seek the death penalty, and ask for life imprisonment instead.
If you’re accused of a felony or a misdemeanor, make sure to contact a trusted criminal defense attorney right away to defend you against the accusation, and help you avoid conviction.
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