Tad Nelson: A Criminal Defense Lawyer For Everyone!
There are two kinds of criminal charges in Texas: felonies and misdemeanors. Of the two, felonies are the more serious. A felony is basically defined as any crime where the punishment for conviction includes at least one year in jail. Of course, that is only a minimum. Many serious felonies in Texas carry sentences that range from 1 or 2 years all the way up to life imprisonment. And regardless of any prison term, a serious felony conviction carries a number of collateral consequences, such as the loss of basic civil rights.
The Law Offices of Tad Nelson can represent you if you are facing these kinds of charges. We are Galveston serious felony lawyers dedicated to ensuring every client receives due process before the Texas criminal justice system. Lead attorney Tad A. Nelson is a former assistant district attorney who has now spent more than two decades putting his skills and experience to work for the people of Galveston. He and his team can handle your criminal case at every stage of the process, from your initial appearance before a magistrate to an appeal of a conviction.
How Texas Classifies Serious Felonies
Within the general category of “felonies,” the Texas Penal Code actually defines five specific classes of felonies, which are as follows:
- Capital felonies
- First-degree felonies
- Second-degree felonies
- Third-degree felonies
- State jail felonies
Capital felonies are the most serious crimes. A person convicted of a capital crime faces either execution by the state or life imprisonment. The two most notable capital felonies in Texas are capital murder and capital felony murder. These are homicides that involve one or more aggravating factors, such as the killing of a police officer or committing a murder in the course of another felony, such as kidnapping or robbery.
The remaining four classes of serious felonies in Texas represent a sliding scale in terms of the maximum punishment allowed by law. These break down as follows:
- First-degree felonies: 5 to 99 years or life imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Second-degree felonies: 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Third-degree felonies: 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- State jail felonies: 180 days to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
What Are Some Commonly Charged Serious Felonies in Texas?
There is a wide range of felonies defined in the Texas Penal Code. In many cases, a defendant may face multiple felony charges arising from the same alleged criminal act or episode. And the degree of felony involved can depend on the specific facts or circumstances of the case.
Here are a few more of the more common serious felony cases we handle at the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates:
- Aggravated Felonies: Many kinds of felony crimes in Texas have an “aggravated” counterpart, such as aggravated robbery, aggravated assault, and aggravated kidnapping. For example, robbery is a second-degree felony involving theft that causes bodily injury to another or where the robber threatened such bodily injury. Aggravated robbery is a first-degree felony that includes all of the elements of robbery plus one or more additional factors, such as using or exhibiting a firearm in the course of the robbery.
- Arson: Intentionally starting a fire with the intent to destroy property is a second-degree felony in Texas. And if arson leads to the loss of human life, it is a first-degree felony.
- Attempted Murder: A felony is still a felony even if the crime is deemed “incomplete.” This includes offenses like attempted murder, which is a first-degree felony in Texas.
- Major Drug Crimes: Simple marijuana possession will not land you in prison for life. But there are a number of major drug crimes that are prosecuted as first- and second-degree felonies, such as offenses related to drug production and drug trafficking.
- Manslaughter: Manslaughter is a type of homicide where someone is killed through the reckless actions of the defendant. In Texas, manslaughter is classified as a second-degree felony.
- Murder: Murder is when someone knowingly or intentionally causes the death of an individual. It also applies to cases where someone is killed in the course of another felony, such as a robbery or kidnapping, which is sometimes referred to as “felony murder.” Unless there are aggravating factors to justify a capital murder charge, murder is a first-degree felony under Texas law.
- Possession of an Illegal Firearm or Explosive: While Texas has some of the strongest protections for gun rights in the nation, there are still restrictions on certain people carrying firearms, notably people who have been previously convicted of a felony. You can be charged with being a “felon in possession” of a firearm. It is also a felony to use a firearm in the commission of a crime or to possess certain kinds of weapons and explosives.
- Sexual Assault: This is the term used for “rape” in the Texas Penal Code and in most cases will be charged as a first-degree felony.
- Vehicular Manslaughter: Most drunk driving cases are misdemeanors in Texas. However, if a drunk driver causes a fatal accident, they can be charged with felony intoxicated manslaughter.
What Happens When I Am Charged with a Felony in Galveston, Texas?
A police officer must have probable cause to arrest someone on a felony charge. “Probable cause” is a lower standard of proof than is necessary to actually convict someone. At trial, a prosecutor must prove a defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” on every element of the alleged felony. Generally, a police officer must first obtain an arrest warrant after demonstrating probable cause to a Texas magistrate. But in some cases, an officer will make an arrest without a warrant, such as when the officer actually observes the alleged crime in progress.
Felony cases in Texas are prosecuted by a District Attorney before a district court. The district attorney typically must first obtain an indictment from a grand jury on a serious felony charge. The grand jury’s role is to determine if there is sufficient evidence to justify a trial, not whether the accused is guilty or innocent. If the grand jury finds there is insufficient evidence, it will issue what is called a “no-bill” and the accused will not have to go to trial.
A grand jury is not the same as a trial (or “petit”) jury. The accused has no right to testify before the grand jury or have their criminal defense attorney present to cross-examine witnesses. Indeed, grand jury proceedings are always conducted in secret and largely at the direction of the district attorney.
If you are arrested on a felony charge, you must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours for an initial appearance. During this hearing, the magistrate will inform you of the charges against you and advise you of your constitutional rights. This includes the right to remain silent–i.e., you can refuse to answer questions–and the right to be represented by a criminal defense attorney.
Do You Have the Right to Bail on a Texas Felony Charge?
After a grand jury issues an indictment, the accused is required to appear in court for an arraignment (unless they waive this right). The arraignment serves a couple of purposes. First, the accused is required to enter a plea–guilty, not guilty, or no-contest–to the felony charges against them. Second, the judge will decide whether or not to set bail.
The purpose of bail is not to punish the accused. After all, the accused has not yet been convicted of a crime. Rather, bail is meant to ensure the defendant’s presence at all future court hearings, including trial. Persons accused of a felony in Texas have the right to bail before conviction, subject to certain exceptions. For instance, a person accused of a capital offense may be denied bail, as well as someone who has two prior conviction felonies or is accused of committing another felony while already out on bail for a prior felony charge.
Judges may grant bail on the defendant’s “personal bond,” i.e., their promise to appear without any other form of security. But in felony cases it is common to require the defendant post a certain amount of money as bail to secure their release from jail pending trial. In Texas, bail can be posted in one of several ways:
- The accused can simply pay the full amount of the bail by cash or check.
- The accused can obtain a bail bond, which involves having a third party (the bail bondsman) post the full amount of the bail on the defendant’s behalf. The defendant must still pay a fee to obtain the bond, usually between 10 and 20 percent of the full amount.
- The court can place a lien against the home or other property belonging to the defendant or a family member.
Felony cases in Texas often take several months, even years, to complete, especially if the matter goes to trial. During this time you can request a bail hearing to reduce or modify the terms of your bail.
Can I Seek a Reduced or Lesser Charge?
Most Texas felony cases never make it to trial. Sometimes the prosecution realizes their case is too weak and dismisses the charges. But more commonly the state and the defense will negotiate a plea bargain. This is an agreement whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no-content to a specified charge in exchange for a specific punishment recommendation from the prosecution. Depending on the specific facts of a case, the district attorney will agree to reduce the charge to a lesser degree of felony or even a misdemeanor. The judge must still approve any final agreement.
It is also possible for a defendant to enter what is called an “open plea.” This is a plea agreement where the defendant pleads guilty or no contest without a sentencing recommendation from the prosecution. It is left to the judge to decide sentencing. In some open pleas, the defendant may alternatively decide to have a jury decide the issue of punishment only.
How Are Felony Cases Tried in Texas?
If a felony case proceeds to trial, the district attorney and the defendant will each have an opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence to a jury. The defendant retains the constitutional right not to testify at trial. The judge will instruct the jury that they cannot infer the defendant’s guilt from a refusal to testify. The prosecutor ultimately has the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the jury finds guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge will proceed to determine the defendant’s sentence. If the jury finds the defendant not guilty, they are free to go. The Constitution forbids the state from trying a person for the same offense after being acquitted.
Even if someone is found guilty of a felony, they do have the right to appeal the jury’s verdict or the judge’s sentence. An appeal involves asking a higher court, such as the Texas Court of Appeals or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, to review the conduct of the trial for any legal errors that unfairly affected the outcome. An appeals court will not re-try the case or hear any new evidence. But if the higher court finds there was a problem, it can order a new trial or even enter a judgment of acquittal and set the defendant free.
Speak with a Galveston Serious Felonies Lawyer Today
A felony charge is not something that will go away on its own. And it is not something you will be able to talk your way out of just by trying to “explain your side” to a police officer or assistant district attorney. Once you have been arrested or indicted, the full weight of the Texas criminal justice system will come down on you. So your best hope for a favorable outcome is to work with an experienced Galveston serious felonies lawyer.If you need to speak with a Board-certified criminal defense attorney, call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson today at (281) 280-0100 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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Tad and Amber are literally top of the game. When I need results, they are the only people I trust. Quality of service, knowledge and professionalism throughout. Don't gamble with a lawyer on any legal issue, you only want to bet on the best!
Thank you Tad Nelson for standing up for me and what is right, Tad Nelson is obviously well known and respected through out the court system as he spoke with authority and precisely to the assistant DA resulting in the dismissal of my case before the case went to trial. Thank you again. if you want it done call Tad Nelson
I hired them a while back for a DWI out in Harris County, they're good and if you need help with any kind of legal matter, give em a call. For a lawyer, Tad has a great personality so working with him should be easier than working with other lawyers.
He is the one lawyer that I can call and put my trust into. We’ve used him a couple of times, once for a family matter and another time for a troubled relative. He’ll help, tell you the truth with no sugar-coating, and will work for his salt. He’s a good guy and when you go to their office, they make you feel at home, like you’re part of the team. Good lawyers and great folks.
I've had the pleasure of working with Tad personally as a technology consultant for him in the past. We've eaten lunch and dinner together. I know that Tad is very dedicated to his clients and cares for them off the clock. He's definitely the lawyer you want on your side.