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How Does Criminal Sentencing Work in Texas?

After a person is convicted of a crime, they must be sentenced. For many people, sentencing is a confusing topic. But anyone facing criminal charges needs to know how much time they will face behind bars if convicted. Below, our Galveston criminal defense attorney provides an overview of the factors that go into sentencing. Reach out to Tad Nelson & Associates today to schedule a consultation.

Your Offense Level

Crimes in Texas are either felonies or misdemeanors. Every crime is given a classification. For example, credit card abuse is a state jail felony. Aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree felony.

These classifications have minimum and maximum sentences:

  • State jail: 180 days to 2 years in jail.
  • Third degree felony: 2-10 years in prison.
  • Second degree: 2-20 years in prison.
  • First degree: 5-99 years or life in prison.
  • Capital. Life without parole or death.

Previous Felonies

A previous felony impacts the sentencing range. For example, someone facing first-degree felony charges with a prior felony will see their range jump to 15-99 years or life in prison. In effect, the minimum has increased from 5 years to 15 years due to the previous felony.

Someone charged with a second-degree felony will be punished as a first-degree felony if they have a prior felony conviction (except for state-jail felonies).

Someone with two or more felony convictions is a habitual offender. They will certainly face increased penalties. As an example, if you are convicted of a state jail felony, a court will punish you as if you were convicted of a third-degree felony provided this is your third state jail felony conviction. If they have two felonies other than state jail felonies, then Section 12.425(b) of the Penal Code calls a court to punish you as if you were convicted of a second-degree felony.

Other Factors that Affect Sentencing

The judge or jury deciding your sentence can take many factors into consideration, such as:

  • Provocation or duress. Although these do not excuse the crime, they can result in a reduced sentence.
  • Leadership role in the offense. Someone who played a very minor role might receive a reduced sentence if convicted. By contrast, someone who was a leader can face the maximum sentence.
  • Any life circumstances that led to crime. Someone who suffered child abuse could argue that this factor warrants a reduced sentence.
  • Genuine remorse. If the defendant is truly sorry for committing the crime, then they might receive a reduced sentence.
  • Prior criminal record. This is also a factor the judge or jury can consider. Someone with a clean criminal history will probably receive a lighter sentence than someone with prior convictions.
  • Hate crimes. Sentencing enhancements can kick in when the defendant was motivated by hate toward a protected class of individuals. Committing a crime due to racial hate or bias against a religion can result in hate crime enhancements.
  • Use of a deadly weapon. This factor will enhance the punishment for a defendant.

This list is only partial. There are other mitigating and aggravating factors that impact your sentence. Your choice of attorney makes a big difference as well. Some lawyers unfortunately treat sentencing as an afterthought and fail to present all the mitigating factors on behalf of their client. Make sure to ask a lawyer how they approach sentencing.

Concurrent or Stacked Sentences

Many defendants face multiple charges for a criminal episode. For example, someone who is convicted of driving while high could face charges for both DWI and drug possession. When someone is convicted of multiple crimes, a question arises whether their sentences will run concurrently or whether they will be stacked.

When sentences are concurrent, they run at the same time. You could be sentenced to 5 years for one offense and 5 years for the other. Because they run concurrently, you can get out after 5 years.

When sentences are stacked, however, you must complete one sentence before you can begin serving a second one. This obviously increases the time you could spend behind bars. From the example above—you would complete one 5-year sentence and then work on the other. That could result in 10 years behind bars.

Most sentences run concurrently, but there are some exceptions, such as for sex offenses. Talk with your criminal defense attorney.

Our Criminal Defense Lawyer Will Fight for Reduced Sentences

At Tad Nelson and Associates, we do everything possible to get criminal charges dropped or our clients acquitted. However, should you be convicted, we also know how to argue powerfully for the minimum sentence so that you can get out of jail as soon as possible. Call us today to talk about your case.