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Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Infractions in Texas

In Texas, criminal offenses are categorised according to the seriousness or gravity of the crime. The two categories of offenses recognised by the state’s justice system are felonies and misdemeanors. These two groups attract varying degrees of punishment up to a maximum of life imprisonment or death penalty, as spelt out in the Texas Penal Code. All other minor offenses and violations in Texas are known as infractions. Whereas felonies and misdemeanors appear in a person’s criminal records, infractions do not. Summarily, Texas crimes are tried on the basis of these categories.

What is a Felony in Texas?

A felony is any crime that is punishable under the state penal code by heavy fines, imprisonment or even a death sentence. Felonies are the most serious criminal offenses in the state of Texas; this explains the severity of the punishments imposed on them. Whenever an individual is guilty of a felony, such an individual faces one of the two possible punishments for felony convictions as stipulated in the state’s constitution.

Although Texas considers many criminal acts as felonies, these offenses are not equal in severity or seriousness. Some attract more grievous penalties than others. Therefore, the state categorises felony crimes into different classes, ranging from capital felonies to state jail felonies.

  • Capital felonies are crimes that are punishable by death. However, when the state (prosecutor) does not want a death penalty, the felon is sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Just like in other states, murder is a crime that warrants this kind of punishment and is regarded as a capital felony according to Texas Penal Code §12.31.

However, the age of an offender determines the sentence given, especially when the prosecutor does not seek death penalty. If the offender is younger than 18 years, he or she is sentenced to life imprisonment. On the other hand, for offenders who are 18 years old and above, the punishment is life imprisonment without parole.

  • First degree felonies are crimes that are punishable by 5 to 99 years imprisonment with or without a fine up to $10,000. Theft of property which has a value of $200,000 or more and continuous sexual assault are examples of first degree felonies in the state of Texas. The Texas Penal Code §12.32 states that the punishment for this category of offenses can be life imprisonment, but specifically not more than 99 years in prison and not less than 5 years. Punishment can also include or exclude a fine of not more than $10,000.
  • Second degree felonies in Texas also attract serious punishments. Second degree felonies include theft of property worth $100,000 or more but less than $200,000, as well as reckless injury to a child. These crimes are punishable by 2 to 20 years imprisonment with or without a fine of up to, but not more than $10,000.
  • Third degree felonies. This category of crimes are punishable by 2 to 10 years imprisonment, with or without a fine of up to $10,000. The crimes under this category include possession of 5 to 50 pounds of marijuana and theft of property which has a worth of between $20,000 and $100,000. Section 12.34 of the State Penal Code provides that whoever commits any of these crimes cannot spend less than 2 years, and more than 10 years in jail, with or without a fine of up to $10,000.
  • State jail felonies. The last set in the group. These are crimes which the judge sees as felonies but cannot be categorised as either first degree or second degree felonies. These crimes are punishable by not less than 180 days and not more than 2 years in prison, with or without a fine of up to $10,000. Examples of state jail felonies include theft of property worth at least $1,500 but not more than $20,000, theft of livestock worth $30,000, and credit card abuse (Texas Penal Code §12.35).

However, a state jail felony can attract a

third degree felony penalty if:

  • the defendant has a felony conviction in the past; or
  • the defendant used a deadly weapon during the crime.

For habitual felony offenders, Section 12.42 of the Texas Penal Code states that, a third degree felony offender who already has a criminal record of a felony (not a state jail felony) will receive the penalty for a second degree felony. Also, a second degree felony offender with a past record of any felony apart from a state jail felony, will be charged with punishment for a first degree offense. While a first degree felony offender with a past criminal record will incur a prison term not less than 15 years but not more than 99 years with or without the option of a fine up to $10,000.

Even though the state’s penal statutes make provision for a range of punishments, the sentence must be for a specific jail term. This is because Texas operates a determinate sentencing system. Determinate sentencing occurs when the felon is sentenced to a fixed or definite prison term, with no option of review by the parole board. For instance 10 years without parole. As opposed to indeterminate sentencing in which a prison sentence is not fixed but consists of a range of years e.g not below 5 years and not more than 20 years. A number of things determines how much of the term the offender will spend. Examples are discretion of the parole board, offender’s good time or good behaviour credits, and the laws of parole eligibility.

What are some examples of felonies in Texas?

Some examples of felony offenses in Texas listed in the Penal Code from the Office of the Attorney General of Texas include:

  • Murder
  • Sexual assault
  • Injury to a child, aged or disabled person
  • Delivery or possessing marijuana
  • Beastiality
  • Theft of property
  • Burglary
  • Armed robbery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Theft of firearm
  • Kidnapping
  • Prostitution
  • Indecency with a child
  • DWI (Driving while influenced or impaired) with child passenger
  • Using a minor for pornography content

Can I get a felony removed from a court record in Texas?

Expungement of a felony conviction from one’s criminal records (also known as expunction in the state of Texas Justice System) is possible in the state of Texas. Because a criminal record can have adverse effects on the offender, criminal records are allowed to be cleared to give the individual a new lease on life, but not without a price. According to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Section 55.01, a defendant can apply for the expungement of a criminal record if:

  • the person was released and the charge did not lead to a final conviction. This means that the charges against the person concerning the felony were finally dropped.
  • the person was finally exonerated based on the person’s innocence in the crime committed.
  • the person was pardoned after being convicted previously.
  • the defendant was arrested but not charged.

Apart from the expungement of criminal records, it is also possible to apply for the expungement of one’s arrest records an5d files in Texas. To be considered for expunction, the defendant who was arrested for a felony conviction needs to wait for a period of 3 years, beginning from the day of the arrest.

Furthermore, it is not only those who are alive, even the dead can have their records expunged. The relatives of the deceased offender can also file for the expunction of the criminal records of their dead ones. Section 55. 011 of the Criminal Code Procedure makes provision for this application, provided the criminal’s records qualify for expunction. If the records qualify for expunction, the application must be filed at the county where the crime was committed.

Article 55.02 of the Texas Criminal Procedure provides the steps that an applicant needs to take for the expunction of a criminal record.

  • The application for expunction must be initiated through the attorney of the state, with the consent of the court that presided over the case not later than the 30th day of acquittal.
  • The applicant or the counsel representing the applicant must supply necessary information on the case for which the expunction is being filed.
  • The application must be verified.
  • After verification, the attorney representing the state must forward a copy of the application to the district court of the county, and copy law enforcement agencies and other agencies.
  • When the processing of the application is finalized, the clerk of the court will send a certified copy of the order to the Crimes Records Service of the Department of Public Safety, and all other agencies concerned.
  • The Department of Public Safety will notify any central federal depository of the criminal records that need expunction. The instruction of the notification is for the depository to either destroy or return the records to the court.

The application or petition for expungement must include the following details about the applicant:

  • full name
  • sex
  • race
  • date of birth
  • driver’s license number
  • social security number
  • last address at the time of arrest
  • It must also include:
  • the offense
  • date the offense was alleged to be committed;
  • date of arrested
  • name of the county or municipality where the arrest took place
  • name of the law enforcement agency that arrested the petitioner
  • case number of the offense and court that tried the case

In addition, a list must be included which has all applicable physical or e-mail addresses of every agency, detention facilities, courts, public records depositories, and all private entities that can keep such records and grant the general public access to view or obtain it.

When the court and other necessary agencies approve the application for expunction, the applicant does not need to mention his or her criminal status in job applications or any other situations that require such information.

Is expungement the same as sealing court records in Texas?

Expungement, which is called expunction in Texas, is not the same as sealing, which is called an order of nondisclosure. An order of non-disclosure does not allow criminal justice agencies to disclose the criminal records of an individual to the public. What sealing does is to make a criminal record become hidden as if it never happened. Thus, the owner of such a record can conveniently deny it.

A record is eligible for an order of nondisclosure if the defendant pleaded guilty to the offenses and had completed the required adjudication community supervision. To be considered for an order of nondisclosure for a felony conviction, a defendant must wait for a period of 5 years. Furthermore, if a juvenile commits a crime, the record is automatically sealed if he or she meets the required criteria set by the juvenile court.

However, the Justice System (Sec. 411.074) of the state has restrictions on the offenses that are eligible for an order of nondisclosure. These are examples of offenses that are not eligible for an order of nondisclosure.

  • Aggravated kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Injury to a child
  • An offense requiring registration as a sex offender
  • Family violence offense
  • Continuous trafficking of persons
  • Stalking

These offenses and some others are not eligible for an order of nondisclosure. Whoever is applying for order of nondisclosure in the state of Texas can be denied if the crime for which the person is seeking this order is any of those listed above, or if the person has a past criminal record of any of those crimes.

An order of nondisclosure does not mean the records cease to exist, it only prohibits the criminal record from public view. Criminal justice agencies, licensing agencies and government agencies still have access to view the records.

What are misdemeanors in Texas?

Misdemeanors are also criminal offenses but they are not as serious as felonies. Therefore, misdemeanor convictions do not have the kind of severe penalties that felonies attract, because they do not involve serious violence or loss of property. The punishments for misdemeanors can either be fines or imprisonment. The fines must not exceed a sum of $4,000, and imprisonment must not exceed 1 year (364 days precisely) in the county jail. These punishments even show that these crimes are not as grievous as felonies.

Misdemeanor offenses are not of the same seriousness, they are therefore categorised into three classes. They are as follows:

  • Class A Misdemeanors: These are the most serious of all misdemeanors. The punishments for Class A misdemeanors is not more than 1 year in the county jail where the crimes are committed with or without a fine of not more than $4,000. Examples of misdemeanor crimes are staking without bodily injury to the victim and theft of property with a value not less than $500 but not up to $1,500.
  • Class B Misdemeanors: These crimes are not as serious as Class A misdemeanors. They attract a penalty of 180 days in the county jail of where the crimes are committed with a fine of not more than $2,000 or both a jail term and a fine. Examples of Class B misdemeanors are DWI (driving while intoxicated) and possession of marijuana of not less than 2 ounces but not more than 4 ounces.
  • Class C Misdemeanors: These are the least serious crimes under misdemeanor and in the state of Texas based on the description and categorization of crimes and offences in Texas. As a result of being the least serious offences, offenders do not expect any jail term but they settle their offenses through fines which cannot exceed a sum of $500.

According to the Texas Penal Code, if a judge sees a crime as misdemeanor but is unable to put it under any of the classes, the crime will attract the punishment for Class C misdemeanors.

What are some examples of misdemeanors in Texas?

Some of the examples of misdemeanors in the state of Texas are:

  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
  • Family violence assault
  • Public intoxication
  • Traffic ticketing
  • Possession of marijuana in a small quantity
  • Petty theft of property
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Assault without bodily harm
  • Burglary of vehicles

Can I get a misdemeanor removed from a record in Texas?

Misdemeanors can be removed from an offender’s records in Texas. According to the provisions of Texas Criminal Code Procedure, some criminal records can qualify for removal or expungement. For a crime to be considered for expunction, the applicant must meet the following conditions.

  • The person must have been charged and exonerated.
  • The person must have been wrongly convicted in the past.
  • The person was arrested but not charged.
  • The person must have been pardoned after being convicted.
  • The person was formally charged but the case was later dismissed based on the innocence of the defendant.

Before a defendant can apply for the expunction of misdemeanor offenses, the class of misdemeanor committed must be put into consideration. To apply for the expunction of Class C misdemeanors, the applicant must wait for a period of 180 days which starts from the day of arrest. In addition, a waiting period of one year from the day of arrest is required before offenders can apply for the expunction of criminal records for Class A and Class B misdemeanors in the state of Texas.

Can a DUI be expunged in Texas?

DUI (known in Texas as DWI—driving while intoxicated) can be expunged according to the provision of the Texas Penal Code. Almost all crimes are eligible for expunction in Texas, with the exception of few. Despite the fact that a crime qualifies for expunction in the Texas Criminal Code Procedure, any applicant applying on behalf of a relative must ensure that the waiting period for the crime has elapsed. Since DUI (DWI in Texas) is a Class B misdemeanor, the waiting period is one year, which starts reading from the day of arrest. After the waiting period has elapsed, the applicant can file for the expunction of the record.

What is an infraction in Texas?

Infractions are the least serious set of crimes in the state of Texas. Most infractions are traffic violations and constituting public nuisance through noise or littering. As such, they attract no severe punishments. Nevertheless, infractions are crimes that are punishable by a fine, community service or mandatory rehabilitation classes. Since infractions are really not serious crimes, there is no stated punishment for them in the Texas Penal Code. Traffic violation is a typical example of infraction.

When an individual commits an infraction in the state of Texas, they cannot be arrested or jailed, heavily fined or given a jury or court trial. Law enforcement agents are to simply inform the offender of his or her violation. After which they are booked for the appropriate punishment; this can either be a fine or community service. In Houston, Texas for instance, there are different fines earmarked for different traffic violations.

  • For overspeeding, the fines are location specific and depend on how much the speed is beyond the stipulated speed limit for the area. If it is a posted zone, the fine ranges from $170 to $300; for a school zone, it ranges from $220 to $325 and $235 to $500 for a construction zone.
  • For not using the seat belt, the fine ranges from $150 to $225.

What are some examples of infractions in Texas?

Some examples of infractions in the state of Texas are:

  • Public nuisance
  • Jaywalking
  • Traffic violations (speeding, traffic lights e.t.c
  • Disobeying railroad crossing sign
  • Being drunk in public
  • Failure to stop for a school bus
  • Wrongful parking
  • Operating a business with no proper licence
  • Littering
  • Not wearing a seat belt
  • Fishing and Boating violations

Can Infractions Be Expunged From A Texas Criminal Court Record?

Since infractions are not considered real crimes in the state of Texas, these offenses do not even get into a person’s criminal records. Law enforcement agents only book offenders so they can change, as such there is no need for offenders to file for expunction. However, infractions can graduate into serious crimes under certain circumstances in the state of Texas. When such happens, the state has general provisions for the expunction of such crimes.

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