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There are two parts to any criminal case: (1) proving guilt or innocence; and (2) deciding punishment (sentencing). Crimes are defined by state and federal law by not only (1) listing the things that must be proven in order to find someone guilty of a crime but (2) listing the range of punishment that comes with being convicted of that crime.

To know whether a crime is a felony or misdemeanor, you have to discover first if it’s been asserted under federal or state law, and then you must research the particular offense to find what punishment has been assigned to that crime.

Dallas theft lawyer Michael Lowe notes that judges and prosecutors do not get to decide the punishment someone will receive for a conviction; sentencing must be done within the established boundaries and definitions set in the law itself. In federal cases, these boundaries are defined in the criminal statutes themselves and work together with a federal manual commonly known as the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. In Texas cases, the boundaries are found both in the statute that defines the crime as well as past court cases that have dealt with punishment issues surrounding that crime.

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Felonies and Misdemeanors in Texas and Federal Court

One thing that is true for both state and federal punishment for crimes under state or federal law is that crimes are divided into two kinds of punishments: felonies and misdemeanors.


The more serious crimes are considered to be felonies. A “felony” is a criminal offense that conviction brings a range of punishment in Texas of (1) a money fine that can be as high as $10,000.00 and (2) a sentence of imprisonment in a Texas state penitentiary for a time period of 6 months to the rest of your life.

Texas and federal felony convictions impact people after they get released from prison, too. Felons may no longer be able to vote. Felons cannot get licensed to hold some kinds of jobs, do some kinds of work. Felons are not allowed to own a gun.

Felony convictions are serious and any charge that carries a felony punishment must be aggressively defended. Some felonies are understandable: most people know that an aggravated assault case where someone shoots and almost kills another person in a drunken fight will have a felony punishment.

However, some people are surprised at other felony situations: for example, a person in Texas who is convicted for the third (3d) time on a DWI (driving while intoxicated) charge can face the serious first degree felony of life behind bars.

The 5 Kinds of Texas Felonies

The Texas Penal Code defines the different kinds of felonies in Texas; there are five (5) kinds of felony punishments in Texas law:

  1. Capital Felony – Death Penalty or Life Imprisonment Without Possibility of Parole
  2. First Degree (1st Degree) Felony – Five (5) to Ninety-Nine (99) Years Imprisonment and a Maximum Fine of $10,000
  3. Second Degree (2nd Degree) Felony – Two (2) to Twenty (20) Years Imprisonment and a Maximum Fine of $10,000
  4. Third Degree (3d Degree) Felony – Five (5) to Ninety-Nine (99) Years Imprisonment and a Maximum Fine of $10,000
  5. State Jail Felony – One Hundred Eighty (180) Days to Two (2) Years Imprisonment and a Maximum file of $10,000.

Misdemeanors in Texas

Misdemeanors are crimes with less severe punishments. There are fines that can be assessed (up to $4000) and there is the possibility of spending up to 1 year behind bars – but you will be incarcerated in the county jail, not a Texas prison.

Dallas theft lawyer Michael Lowe notes that misdemeanors do not follow someone for the rest of their lives like felonies can: for example, there is no impact of a misdemeanor charge on someone’s right to vote, to buy a gun, or to hold any kind of job.

The Three Kinds of Misdemeanors in Texas

  1. Class A Misdemeanor – Not more than one (1) 1 year incarcerated in a county jail and/or a maximum fine of $4000
  2. Class B Misdemeanor – Not more than One Hundred Eighty (180) days incarcerated in a county jail and/or a maximum fine of $4000
  3. Class C Misdemeanor – No jail time and/or a maximum fine of $500

Federal Felonies and Misdemeanors

Title 18 of the U.S. Code Section 3559 classifies federal offenses as either felonies, misdemeanors, or infractions as follows:

(1) life imprisonment, or if the maximum penalty is death, as a Class A felony;

(2) twenty-five years or more, as a Class B felony;

(3) less than twenty-five years but ten or more years, as a Class C felony;

(4) less than ten years but five or more years, as a Class D felony;

(5) less than five years but more than one year, as a Class E felony;

(6) one year or less but more than six months, as a Class A misdemeanor;

(7) six months or less but more than thirty days, as a Class B misdemeanor;

(8) thirty days or less but more than five days, as a Class C misdemeanor; or

(9) five days or less, or if no imprisonment is authorized, as an infraction.


Defense Lawyers Fight in Sentencing – Defending on the Punishment to be Assessed

Criminal defense involves not only representing a client in the guilt or innocence arguments of a case, for experienced Texas criminal lawyers, particularly those practicing in the Dallas – Fort Worth area, the defense in sentencing can be key to a client’s life and a family’s future well-being.

Drunk driving cases, for example, can escalate into felony charges that are life-altering for the accused as well as his or her family. Family disputes that turn into physical confrontations may mean that loved ones are facing serious time in prison unless extenuating, emotional circumstances are shown to the judge for his or her consideration in sentencing.

Felonies are serious and merit a serious and aggressive defense. For more information on how the prosecution views Felonies and Misdemeanors, for a sense of what criminal defense attorneys are facing in negotiations and strategy in felony and misdemeanor defense, check out the Penal Code Offenses By Punishment Range publication issued by Greg Abbott as Attorney General for the State of Texas.

As a former prosecutor turned Dallas theft attorney with over 150 jury trials defending clients against charges brought by district attorneys and U.S. federal prosecutors in Dallas County, Tarrant County, and elsewhere in the State of Texas, Board Certified Criminal Lawyer Michael Lowe not only brings his years of experience to each case, he also dedicates 100% of his law practice to the defense of those being accused of a crime under Texas or federal law.

With a streamlined law firm that coordinates its efforts to give each client the personal attention that they need and deserve when fighting against the government and the possibility of jail time, fines, permanent marks on public records, prison incarceration, loss of licensure, loss of jobs, absence from family events and everyday living, Michael Lowe maintains an efficient and excellent criminal trial practice that is ready to help you or your loved ones in your defense against criminal charges from pre-arrest investigation to post-trial appeals.

To discuss your case in a free and completely confidential consultation, please contact Dallas Board Certified Criminal Lawyer Michael Lowe today.

Have a Question? Call Michael Lowe for a Free Initial Consultation.