In Texas, felony offenses and their punishments are organized by levels, beginning at capital felonies, then to first degree, second degree, third degree, and state jail felonies, from most to least serious. The charges and consequences of crimes in Texas vary greatly, depending on the defendant’s criminal history, age, and the nature of the offense itself. Texas uses determinate sentencing, meaning the punishment for a crime committed is decided based on previously set sentencing guidelines.
Capital Felony In Texas
A capital felony is the most serious offense in Texas. This category includes crimes such as capital murder and treason. The punishment for a capital felony depends on the age of the offender and whether or not the state decides to seek the death penalty. If the state does seek the death penalty, the offender faces life without parole or death, whereas if the state does not seek it, the offender faces life without parole. While this applies to the majority of cases, in situations where the offender is < 18 years of age at the time the offense was committed, they are not eligible for life without parole.
First Degree Felony
First degree felonies are the second most serious offenses in Texas. These crimes come with severe punishments but cannot have the death penalty imposed. First degree felonies are crimes such as attempted capital murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and aggravated sexual assault.
An offender with a clean record will face a sentence of 5–99 years or life in prison for a first-degree felony. Punishment can also include a fine of up to $10,000. However, aggravated sexual assault is an exception to these sentencing guidelines, with the addition of a 25-year minimum for the victim having been < 6, or < 14 and the felony contained threats of serious bodily harm or death, or the use of a deadly weapon.
One Felony Prior
For a defendant with a prior felony (but not state felony) conviction, the punishment is 15–99 years, or life in prison, with the possibility of an additional fine of up to $10,000. For offenders over 18 years old who are on trial for certain sexual assault offenses, if they have prior convictions of certain violent sexual offenses, they will face life in prison without parole.
Second Degree Felony
Second-degree felonies include crimes such as aggravated assault, sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, and illegal possession of marijuana (50–2,000 lbs).
First-time offenders facing second-degree felony charges receive 2–20 years in jail, along with in some cases a fine of up to $10,000.
One Felony Prior
A defendant facing a second-degree felony charge who has previously been convicted of a felony (not a state jail felony) will be punished for a first-degree felony.
Third-degree felony offenses are crimes such as stalking, deadly conduct with a firearm, intoxication assault, and possession of a firearm as a felon.
A first-time offender being tried for a third-degree felony will face a sentence of 2–10 years in prison, and possibly a fine of up to $10,000.
One Felony Prior
Offenders on trial for a third degree felony conviction with one prior felony conviction (not a state jail felony) will face punishment for a second-degree felony.
State Jail Felony
The punishments for state jail felonies can vary a lot depending on the offender’s criminal history, but they are still the lowest class of felonies in Texas. Examples of State Jail Felonies include DWI with a child passenger, forging a check, and possession of <1 gram of a controlled substance.
The punishment for a State Jail Felony ranges from 180 days to 2 years, with an up to $10,000 fine. State Jail Felonies are unique in that offenders are not able to get early release through good behavior or any other way. See How to get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor in Texas for more on this. Prior offenses of varying natures means an offender can face a second or third degree punishment for their state jail felony conviction.
Habitual Offenders (All Felonies)
If a defendant has had two separate previous felony convictions, the sentence for any felony regardless of degree (except for a state jail felony) that they face will be from 25–99 years, or at most, life imprisonment.