What Are the Degrees of Felonies in Texas?

By Claire Gillespie - Updated October 17, 2018
Police car on the street

The word "felony" actually originates from English common law, from the French medieval word "félonie." Originally, felonies were crimes resulting in the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods, and other crimes were called misdemeanors. Today, a felony is defined as a serious crime. Felonies can vary widely from state to state, meaning something that is considered a felony in one state may not be considered a felony in another state.

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Texas has five degrees of felonies: capital felony, first-degree felony, second-degree felony, third-degree felony and state jail felony.

What Is a Felony?

In general, a felony is an offense sentenced by a term of imprisonment of more than one year. The highest level of sentencing in the U.S. criminal justice system applies to felonies, which are serious crimes, such as murder, rape or burglary. Felonies are punishable by a harsher sentence than misdemeanors. Examples of misdemeanors are trespass, vandalism and petty theft. In Texas, the harshest penalty for a misdemeanor offense is one year in prison.

The sentence for a state felony is served in a state prison, as opposed to a federal prison. A sentence of one year or less (i.e., for a misdemeanor) can be served in county jail. However, a judge has the discretion to impose a sentence of less than one year for a felony, taking into consideration statutory limits.

The more serious the felony, the harsher the punishment. How felonies are classified varies by state and crime. Some states have Class A, B, C and D felonies. Other states, such as Texas, have first-degree, second-degree and third-degree felonies. Typically, a Class A or first-degree felony is more severely punished than lower level (e.g., Class B or second-degree) felonies.

Being convicted of a felony has serious implications. For example, you may lose the right to vote, seek public office or own a firearm, and it may become more difficult to obtain suitable housing and employment.

The Degrees of Felony in Texas

Texas has five degrees of felonies: capital felony, first-degree felony, second-degree felony, third-degree felony and state jail felony.

Murder, treason and genocide are examples of capital felonies in Texas. This degree of felony carries a maximum punishment of life without parole or execution. If you were a juvenile when the crime was committed, the prosecutor has the discretion to seek life imprisonment for a capital felony.

First-degree felony, such as aggravated sexual assault or theft of property valued at $200,000 or more, is punishable by five to 99 years or life in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.

Second-degree felony, such as theft of property valued at $100,000 or more, but less than $200,000, aggravated assault or reckless injury to a child, is punishable by two to 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.

Third-degree felony, such as theft of property valued at $20,000 or more, but less than $100,000, or drive-by shooting with no injury, is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

State jail felony, such as theft of property valued at $1,500 or more, but less than $20,000 or credit card or debit card abuse, is punishable by 180 days to two years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Community supervision may also be a punishment for a state jail felony. Sometimes, a state jail felony may be lowered to a misdemeanor with no jail time. However, if you were previously convicted of a felony or the crime involved a deadly weapon, a state jail felony can be enhanced to a third-degree felony.

In Texas, all degrees of felonies are dealt with in the District Court. When deciding on a punishment, a judge considers several factors, including whether the defendant is a first-time or repeat offender, whether the defendant was an accomplice or the main offender, whether the defendant committed the crime under great personal stress or duress, and whether the defendant appears to be truly sorry or remorseful for the crime.

The punishment is 25 to 99 years in prison or life imprisonment if you are on trial for any felony apart from a state jail felony, you have been previously convicted of two felonies and the second previous felony conviction is for an offense that took place before the first previous conviction became final.

In Texas, many crimes must be prosecuted before a prescribed statute of limitations has expired. This begins to run when the alleged crime was committed. If the statute of limitations has expired, the judge may be required to dismiss the case. Major crimes have longer statutes of limitations, and very serious crimes like murder are not subject to a statute of limitations.

Is Texas State Jail Time Day for Day?

In 1993, the Texas legislature created a fifth felony charge called state jail felony to try to help solve overcrowding issues in prisons due to the large-scale prosecution of drug-related crimes. Unlike the four other felony charges, parole does not apply to state jail charges. In most cases, a sentence for a state jail felony conviction is 180 days to two years, and it is commonly referred to as being served "day for day." In other words, the inmate serves the entire sentence. There is a program called Diligent Participation Credit that can reduce a state jail sentence, but this is not automatic.

The Diligent Participation Credit program gives people sentenced to state jail time credit for taking part in state jail programs, such as education, work and substance abuse treatment. The "diligent" element of the program means the inmate must successfully complete the program or have made meaningful progression toward completion that was interrupted only by circumstances beyond the inmate’s control.

Since 2015, a sentencing judge has had the power to determine that an offender is presumptively entitled to receive the diligent participation credit for a state jail felony sentence. The inmate receives the credit – provided he diligently participates – on the 45th day before 80 percent of his sentence is served.

How Much Jail Time Can You Get for Tampering With Evidence?

In Texas, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence that could be used for criminal proceedings is illegal. A tampering with evidence charge is considered a third-degree felony offense, which means it carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a maximum possible fine of $10,000.

Altering, concealing or destroying any evidence that has to do with an ongoing investigation, court proceeding or crime can lead to a tampering with evidence charge. This covers many scenarios, such as hiding a weapon used to commit a crime, swallowing or flushing an illegal substance (e.g., illegal drugs or pills) to avoid arrest, shredding documents subpoenaed by the court, discarding a device (e.g., a computer or mobile phone), or erasing files on a computer when these items are required as evidence.

If a human corpse is the evidence in question, you face a second-degree felony charge and the penalties are even greater. If convicted, you face up to 20 years in prison and significant fines.

However, if the offense is failing to report a human corpse (i.e., you have not had any physical contact with the corpse and simply know of it and have not reported it), then the conviction is downgraded from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor, with up to one year in prison and a maximum possible fine of $4,000.

Clearing Felonies Off Your Record in Texas

Texas law gives you the opportunity to clear your criminal record if you meet certain criteria. This may be done by expungement or a non-disclosure order. Expungement (known as "expunction" in Texas) completely erases an offense from your criminal record so that no one will ever be able to find out that you were charged with the offense, including police officers, prosecutors and the court itself. A non-disclosure order does not erase an offense (technically, it remains on your record) but it blocks the public from viewing a record of that offense. In both cases, this means criminal information about you will no longer be available to the public when background checks of any kind are carried out. (Background checks are common when you apply for a job, scholarship, loan or apartment rental.)

Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, you might be eligible for expungement of a felony record if one of the following applies:

  • prosecutors filed charges against you but later dismissed them; 
  • you were convicted of a crime but were later proved innocent; 
  • you were acquitted by the court, you never went to trial and the prosecution suggested expungement; 
  • you were pardoned by the Texas governor or the President of the United States; or 
  • a grand jury decided the evidence in your case was not sufficient to send your case to the court for prosecution (otherwise known as a "no-bill"). 

You might also qualify for felony expungement if you pleaded guilty to a crime or the courts convicted you of misdemeanor offenses as a minor.

If you were placed on postponed adjudication community supervision by the court, you do not qualify for felony expungement, but you might be able to seal your records with an order of non-disclosure instead. This seals your criminal record and prevents the public from seeing it. Under the Texas Government Code, you have the option to make an appeal to the court that placed you on postponed adjudication community supervision.

You can ask for an order of non-disclosure if you entered a plea of guilty or no contest, the judge delayed proceedings but did not enter an adjudication of guilt and put you under court surveillance, or the judge dismissed proceedings and discharged you by the end of the surveillance period.

You should be aware that an order of non-disclosure applies to one particular criminal offense and not your entire criminal record. However, you might qualify for multiple orders of non-disclosure to seal multiple criminal offenses.

Generally, you can seek an order of non-disclosure provided you have not been charged with anything more than a traffic ticket since the adjudication ended, you were never revoked, the applicable time limit has passed and the offense was not one of the offenses barred by law.

Offenses barred from a non-disclosure order include murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, any offense for family violence, child endangerment, injury to a child and stalking.

Following both expungement and non-disclosure, you have the legal right to deny your previous arrest. However, because your record is sealed and not erased, certain government agencies and authorized non-criminal justice administrations can still access a non-disclosed record.

You must wait for at least three years after the date of your arrest to file for either expungement or an order of non-disclosure for a felony offense.

About the Author

Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.

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