Criminal Sentencing Process
If you have been convicted of an offense in Texas, a judge or jury will determine your punishment. Texas criminal statutes give judges and juries leeway in determining if you will pay a fine or serve jail time for many misdemeanor offenses, while there are certain felony offenses that will force the judge or jury to assess jail time and serious fines. Here’s what you need to know about the criminal sentencing process in Texas.
Factors Considered Before Sentencing
Before assessing a sentence, oftentimes a presentencing report is required. This report must be in writing, and must include information such as the circumstances of the offense; the amount of restitution necessary to compensate a victim of the offense; and the social and criminal history of the defendant. If a presentencing report is not required, judges and juries are given great leeway in assessing a sentence after you plead or being found guilty of an offense. In misdemeanor sentencing, a judge will often render his punishment at the time of conviction. Felony sentencing is often done only after the prosecution and the defense have an opportunity to argue for a preferred sentence and judges may also ask for victim impact statements. Some of the factors that a judge may use when sentencing include:
- Past behavior– a judge has a right to determine whether the offender has a prior criminal history. The more serious past offenses you’ve been convicted of, the greater the change of a stricter sentence.
- Main offender or accessory– the judge will review the case against you and determine whether you were the primary offender or if you were assisting another person in the commission of a offense. Generally, an accessory will receive a lighter sentence than the primary offender.
- Stress and duress– judges often will evaluate whether you committed a offense because of certain stressors or duress. For example, if you were convicted of shoplifting but you’ve been out of work for a long period of time, this may result in a lighter sentence.
- Injured parties– a judge will determine if another person was injured during the commission of a offense or whether there was a potential of bodily injury. For example, if you were convicted of a DUI there is a chance someone could have been injured which could result in a steeper fine or longer sentence.
- Cruelty and destructive behavior– revenge is never a good motivation for an offense. Should the court determine your behavior was cruel or particularly destructive, you could be facing a longer jail term.
- Remorseful behavior– your attitude during your trial and any testimony you give could help minimize the punishment you receive. In general, a judge will try to determine if you regret your actions and may be more lenient.
Misdemeanor Guilty Finding: Possible Sentences
If you are facing misdemeanor charges in Texas, the prosecutor has only two years to bring those charges after the date of the criminal act. Misdemeanor charges are broken out by class; specifically, Class A, B and C. Class C misdemeanor offenses do not involve jail time unless there are certain cases where a judge determines you are a habitual offender. As a general rule, petty theft, like shoplifting less than $50 in merchandise would be considered a Class C misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious and could result in jail time of up to one year and fines of up to $4,000. Typically, carrying a weapon without permit would be considered a Class A misdemeanor.
Felony Guilty Finding: Stiffer Sentencing and Fines
Felony charges in Texas are categorized by degree. The most serious felony is a capital felony charge and those found guilty will be facing life in prison or the death sentence. These charges are common in murder cases; no other felony is as serious. The other categories for felony charges are First Degree, Second Degree, Third Degree and State Jail felonies. State jail felony convictions could mean a minimum of six months to a maximum of two years in jail as well as fines of up to $10,000.
The sentence for a third degree felony is not less than two years, and not more than ten years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as well as fines of up to $10,000. Possession of large amounts (generally over five pounds) of marijuana is a common third degree felony.
Second degree felonies could result in a sentence of not less than two years, or more than twenty years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Second degree felonies include domestic battery in Texas.
First degree felonies are punishable for a term not more than ninety nine years, nor less than five years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Under Texas law, sexual abuse of a child is considered a first degree penalty and a guilty finding could mean 99 years’ prison time.
Texas sentencing is complicated and because the judge or jury has so much discretion, it is important that your criminal defense attorney understand both the law and how much leeway a judge has when doling out punishment. This is why it is also important to work with a criminal defense attorney immediately upon being charged with an offense; only an attorney who has a full understanding of your case can help minimize the potential sentence you are facing after pleading guilty, or being found guilty of a offense. When you need an aggressive attorney on your side, contact the criminal defense attorneys of the Brandy Austin Law Firm. Please call us at 817-841-9906 or fill out our contact form.