First Degree Felonies in Texas

man behind bars for first degree felony
Most first degree felony convictions come with a minimum of 5 years in jail.

First degree felonies are the second-most severe type of crime in Texas. Most convictions come with a minimum of 5 years in jail. Convictions can carry up to a life sentence.

Some examples of first degree felonies are:

  • aggravated robbery (Penal Code 29.03),
  • arson causing death (Penal Code 28.02(d)(1)), and
  • attempted capital felonies, like murder (Penal Code 15.01).

First degree felonies cannot carry the death penalty in Texas. Only capital felonies carry the death penalty.

1. What is a first degree felony in Texas?

A first degree felony is a type of crime. It is the second-most severe criminal offense in Texas. Only capital felonies are more severe. Less severe felony offenses are:

2. What are the penalties?

A conviction for a first degree felony carries the following penalties:

  • between 5 years and life in prison, and/or
  • up to $10,000 in fines.

The fines for certain drug cases can be higher.

A prior criminal conviction can increase the potential jail time. For example:

  • The minimum jail sentence can be raised to 15 years. For this to happen, the defendant needs to have a felony offense on their record, other than a state jail felony,1 and
  • A first degree felony for an aggravated sex offense can become a life sentence. For this to happen, the defendant has to have a prior conviction for certain violent sex offenses.2

There are also collateral consequences of a conviction.

3. What are the collateral consequences of a conviction?

Collateral consequences are the penalties of a conviction other than jail, fines, and probation. For felonies, they can be very severe. People convicted of a first degree felony can:

  • lose their right to vote,
  • lose their right to own or possess firearms,
  • be stripped of professional certifications, and
  • be prevented from pursuing professional certifications.

A felony conviction will also stay on a defendant's criminal record forever. Anyone who performs a background check will find it. Employers, landlords, and even banks can look negatively on a prior felony conviction. A conviction for a first degree felony can lead to severe financial hardships.

4. Is probation an option?

Probation can be an option for certain first degree felony convictions in Texas.

Probation is an alternative to serving time in jail. Some defendants convicted of first degree felonies can be put on probation rather than sent to prison. Probationers have to meet all of the requirements of their probation. These depend on the details of their conviction. They often include:

  • paying court costs,
  • making restitution payments to victims,
  • random drug testing,
  • making regular visits with the probation officer, and
  • completing community service.

In some first degree felonies, the judge cannot sentence a defendant to probation, alone. These felonies used to be listed at the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 42.12(3)(g). They are now listed at Article 42A.054. However, they are still referred to as 3G offenses after their original place in the code. They include:

  • murder,
  • sexual assault,
  • aggravated robbery,
  • burglary of a residence with intent to commit a felony, and
  • felonies using a deadly weapon.

After a jury trial, the jury can sentence the defendant to probation for a 3G offense. A judge never can, though.

Probation also is not an option if the jail sentence is longer than 10 years.

Probation is different from parole. Both are types of supervised release. However, probation comes instead of a jail sentence. Parole can only happen after some jail time has been served. Inmates are eligible for parole after one-quarter of their jail sentence has been served.

5. What are some examples?

The following criminal offenses are examples of first degree felonies in Texas:

  • murder (Penal Code 19.02),
  • solicitation of a capital felony (Penal Code 15.03),
  • trafficking in persons (Penal Code 20A.02),
  • aggravated kidnapping (Penal Code 20.04),
  • sexual abuse of children (Penal Code 21.02),
  • manufacture or delivery of controlled substances (Health and Safety Code 481.112),
  • aggravated assault (Penal Code 22.02), and
  • aggravated sexual assault (Penal Code 22.021).

6. Can second degree felonies be elevated to the first degree?

Some second degree felonies can be enhanced into first degree felonies. The enhancement is often due to the context surrounding the alleged offense.

In drug cases, the enhancement usually comes from extremely high volumes of drugs. In violent crimes, it usually comes from extreme violence or if children were involved. For example, the following second degree felonies become first degree:

  • theft of between $150,000 and $300,000 (Penal Code 31.03(f)), if the victim is a nonprofit organization,
  • intoxicated manslaughter (Penal Code 49.08), if the victim is a public servant like a police officer, and
  • manufacturing or delivering drugs (Health and Safety Code 481.1121), if done in a drug-free school zone.
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Legal References:

  1. Texas Penal Code § 12.42(c).

  2. Texas Penal Code § 12.42(c)(2).

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