Updated September 28, 2021; Original Post: July 17, 2020
In Texas, felonies are the most severe level of criminal offenses. This is compared to misdemeanors, which are considered lower-level criminal offenses.
The State of Texas punishes felony crimes with incarceration in state prison or state jail and/or long probation sentences that can extend up to a decade in length, in addition to very high fines and fees. Texas classifies felony crimes under the following schedule: capital felonies, first-, second, or third-degree felonies, or state jail felonies.
The most serious type of felony — a capital felony — is punishable by death or life imprisonment without parole. The least serious type of felony — a state jail felony — is still punishable by up to two years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. A full description of the range of punishing for Texas felony charges is listed below:
- A Capital Felony in Texas is punishable by up to life in prison or the death penalty.
- 1st Degree Felony – punishable by a prison sentence of five years to life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
- 2nd Degree Felony – punishable by a prison sentence of two years to twenty years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
- 3rd Degree Felony – punishable by a prison sentence of two years to ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
- State Jail Felony – the lowest level of felony in Texas. Punishable by a state jail prison sentence of 180 days up to two years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Is Jail or Prison Time Required On A Felony In Texas?
Not necessarily. Even under the worst of circumstances, if it is your first felony offense or you have never been to prison, your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a resolution that keeps you out of prison and allows you to keep the felony arrest and charge sealed from your criminal record.
Under Texas criminal law, you could receive felony probation. Probation in Texas is categorized under two possibilities: straight probation and deferred adjudication. Straight probation is when you have been formally convicted of a felony, but the judge probates your sentence and allows you to remain free. In exchange for remaining free, the judge will assess certain terms and conditions of probation that you must follow. Deferred adjudication is a type of probation that requires a plea of guilty or no contest in exchange for the judge deferring a finding of guilt and allows you to remain free. Under this type of probation, you are never convicted of a felony and if you complete the terms and conditions of probation, your felony case will be dismissed, and you may be eligible for a non-disclosure to seal your felony criminal record.
Failure to comply with the terms and conditions of straight probation or deferred adjudication will result in a warrant for your arrest and you could be facing a prison sentence under a probation revocation.
Finally, even if you have prior criminal history, if you have been charged with a state jail felony in Texas, you may have additional options with this felony charge that does not exist with other types of felonies in Texas. Under Texas criminal law, your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate your state jail felony under a 12.44a punishment.
Under a 12.44a sentence and punishment, you do not go to prison, and you do not accept a probation. Instead, you receive a misdemeanor jail sentence on a felony case. This allows you to resolve your felony case without a prison sentence and the possibility exists you could receive a two for one or three for one credit in county jail (depending upon the rules of your county jail in Texas). The downside? By accepting a 12.44a sentence, you are agreeing to a felony conviction and will suffer the long-term consequences you will learn about below.
While jail time, probation and fines may seem like punishment enough, a felony conviction can carry farther-reaching consequences. Let’s take a closer look…
The True Consequences of a Felony Conviction
When it comes to felony convictions, the most damaging consequences may not be the sentence itself. Yes, a prison sentence can leave you traumatized by the experience and alter your future. Yes, a decade long probation can set you up for failure to be treated unfairly by the community supervision or probation department, but the real hardship that follows a felony conviction is the permanent stain it leaves on your criminal record.
With a felony on your record, you are stripped of basic rights, including:
The Right to Vote
After being convicted of a felony in Texas, you lose the right to vote. Texas law, Texas Election Code, Sec. 11.002(a)(4) prohibits felons from voting until they complete their sentence, parole, or probation.
The good news? Texas automatically restores your right to vote once you carry out your court-ordered sentence, parole, or probation in full. Keep in mind that you will have to register to vote again and may be required to provide evidence that you have completed your sentence prior to entering the voting booth.
The Right to Bear Arms
If you are convicted of a felony, you will likely no longer be allowed to legally carry a firearm. Even though Texas law does permit you to possess a firearm on the premises where you live five years after your felony conviction, federal law makes it illegal to possess a firearm under any circumstances if you’ve been convicted of a felony — unless you have been pardoned.
Since federal law always trumps state laws, it’s practically impossible to purchase a gun by legal means if you have been convicted of a felony. If you do wish to possess a gun, you are advised to speak with an attorney to find out if you are eligible to apply for a pardon.
If you are found to be in possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony, you could be arrested and charged with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm by a Felon, a third-degree felony. This crime is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000.
The Right to Serve on a Jury Panel
In Texas, people convicted of a felony offense lose their right to serve on a jury. You may only have this right restored if you have been pardoned. Again, consulting with an experienced Texas criminal attorney can help you answer any eligibility questions you may have.
Additional Consequences of a Felony Conviction
In addition to impacting your rights, a felony conviction in Texas can have serious repercussions on your professional and personal life.
With a felony conviction, you lose your right to hold public office or any public position without a full pardon. You are also disqualified from holding certain professions if you have a felony conviction.
For example: if you have aspirations of becoming a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a real estate professional or an engineer having a felony conviction on your permanent criminal record could make you ineligible to receive the Texas licensing requirements to practice in this profession. These professions have a licensing board that reviews applications for license, and they refer every application to their Character and Fitness Board to determine if the applicant has a personal and work history of being honest and shown good character. A felony conviction is universally viewed as a sign that someone may have character flaws and should not be trusted. Although this does not seem fair, most employers and licensing agencies abide by this view.
Still, that’s not all — a felony conviction will stay on your record all your life, which means that anyone can perform a background check and see your criminal history.
This includes potential employers, landlords, college application boards, and practically anyone with access to the internet. Unlike misdemeanor convictions, felony convictions are not eligible to be expunged from your record. Because of this, a felony conviction can severely hinder your ability to find employment, obtain housing, or seek secondary education.
What If I Have Not Yet Been Convicted Of a Felony? What Can I Do?
All this information that you have read so far underscores the importance of not becoming a convicted felon. Once you have been convicted of a felony, you will be treated differently for the rest of your life. The first step you must take to protect yourself from becoming a convicted felon is to hire an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney that knows the prosecutors and judges in your county.
Your criminal defense lawyer needs to get access to the police reports and digital media evidence and sit down with you to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your case and determine a customized criminal defense plan and strategy. If your criminal attorney can identify specific weaknesses in your felony case, they may be able to present your case to a grand jury.
A grand jury is a panel of citizens charged with determining if a felony case has probable cause to proceed further in the criminal justice system. If your criminal defense attorney does not present evidence to the grand jury, they will only hear one side of the story and you may lose out on the opportunity to have your story heard early in the process. The grand jury could potentially lower the charge to a misdemeanor crime, keep the charge as a felony or no bill the case. A no bill is the equivalent of being exonerated of the charges.
How Do I Get A Felony Charge Off My Criminal Record?
The only way you can get a felony charge off your criminal record is to file for an expunction under Texas law. However, you must first qualify for an expunction. An expunction is a complete destruction of all records related to the crime. In fact, you are permitted to deny that you were ever arrested or charged with anything.
To be eligible for an expunction, your felony charge must have been dismissed or no billed by a grand jury. Additionally, after the dismissal or no bill there is a waiting period that must be observed equal to the statute of limitations for the felony crime. It is critical to consult with an experienced criminal attorney that understands Texas expunction law to make certain you qualify.
What To Look For When Searching For A Felony Criminal Attorney
Finally, what should you look for when hiring a criminal defense attorney on a felony case. The consequences of a felony conviction are so severe that you must make certain that you due you due diligence when seeking a criminal lawyer.
Your criminal defense attorney needs to specialize in criminal law. There are many attorneys that practice in multiple areas of the law and are more of a jack of all trades and a master of none. It is important that your criminal defense team spends every day in Texas criminal law. Your freedom and clean criminal record are at stake. Additionally, your criminal defense team needs to have experience and relationships with the prosecutors and judges in your county. Negotiations are built upon the reputation of the criminal attorneys involved and relationships that have been developed over time.
The Hampton Law Firm is a boutique criminal defense law firm with a team of 5 Former Prosecutors that have experience in all types of felony charges in Texas. If you choose to work with our criminal law firm, you will have a team of criminal attorneys working tirelessly to ensure you are treated fairly and receive the best result possible under the law. We offer free consultations and would be happy to provide you a case analysis and discuss your options available to you.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. He has been named one of the 3 Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, recognized by Expertise, National Trial Lawyers, Avvo, and others, and he is Lead Counsel rated.