In spite of being the "lesser" of Texas's criminal offense levels, misdemeanor charges should still be taken seriously. A conviction still means a criminal record, and a criminal record can have long-term impacts on a person's ability to seek employment, or pursue their own goals. On top of this, even though penalties for misdemeanor charges are less than those of felony offenses, a person can still potentially face imprisonment upon conviction.
- 1. Texas Misdemeanors
- 2. Special Sentencing Considerations
- 3. Common Examples Of Misdemeanor Charges In Texas
- 4. Expunction And Sealing of Misdemeanor Records
A misdemeanor is a criminal charge that is under the level of a felony. In Texas, misdemeanor charges will involve less serious offenses, and will not result in punishments of imprisonment in a state penitentiary. Common punishments will include:
- Fines: Many misdemeanor crimes are solely punished with fines. No matter what level a misdemeanor charge is brought at, it will never carry a heavier fine than $4,000.
- Imprisonment in a county jail: Certain misdemeanor charges may result in a defendant's imprisonment, however, this may be in the form of a stay in a county jail, or house arrest.
- It is also possible that the judge may sentence a defendant with both fines and jail time.
Texas has 3 tiers of misdemeanor charges, called "classes." These all carry varying degrees of punishments for the defendant.1
- Class A Misdemeanor: Class A misdemeanors are the most serious of all misdemeanor charges. A conviction on a Class A misdemeanor offense will carry a punishment of up to a year in a county jail, and a fine of up to $4,000.
- Class B Misdemeanor: Charges at the level of a Class B misdemeanor are punishable by up to 180 days in a county jail, and a fine of up to $2,000.
- Class C Misdemeanor: Class C misdemeanor charges are the least serious of all misdemeanor charges. There is no jail time involved in a Class C misdemeanor, however, it can be met with fines of up to $500.
Texas law provides different misdemeanor sentencing requirements for certain circumstances. For instance, sentencing may change for repeat offenses.2
- For repeat offenses: If a person has been convicted of a Class A misdemeanor before, there is a mandatory minimum sentencing of 90 days in a county jail for a following Class A misdemeanor offense. If the repeat offense is a Class B misdemeanor, a minimum sentence of 30 days will be imposed.
- For offenses where drugs were used to commit the crime: If drugs or "controlled substances" were used to commit the crime, Class A misdemeanor charges will have a 180-day mandatory minimum.
- For offenses motivated by bias or prejudice: If a crime is motivated by bias or prejudice, the Class A misdemeanor sentencing will carry a 180-day mandatory minimum.
Misdemeanor crimes are much more common than felony charges. Some common types of misdemeanor charges in Texas include:
- Certain drug crimes with small amounts of a controlled substance
- Petty theft
- DWI first offenses
- Disorderly Conduct offenses
- Certain weapons possessions offenses
In most cases, misdemeanor level charges will be appropriate for crimes that do not involve violence, or a high degree of property loss or damage. Sentencing happens upon conviction and is most often decided by the judge for the case. At times, juries may suggest sentencing measures for the judge to consider, if the case was decided by a jury.
In Texas, the process for vacating or expunging a prior criminal record is known as "expunction." This process takes place either after an arrest, an acquittal, or a dismissal. After this, a person must then wait a certain amount of time for their record to be eligible for expunction. In addition, this person must not have any current criminal charges or proceedings outstanding against them.
- Class C misdemeanors: 180 days from the date of the arrest
- Class A and B misdemeanors: One year from the date of the arrest
If a person has been convicted, they must then follow a process for petitioning the court for an "order of nondisclosure." Petition for this order often involves completing community supervision programs, or other court-mandated programs.3
- Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.21-23
- Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.43, 12.47, 12.49
- Tex. Crim. Code § 55 holds all requirements for expunction of arrest records, and Tex. Govt. § 411.081 holds requirements for sealing records for convictions.