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Will You Go to State Jail or Texas Prison? The Importance of Plea Negotiations

This week, Dallas Police Chief David Brown is fighting to keep his job after the news got out that there has been almost a 75% increase in murders in the Dallas area. That’s right: SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT.

The Black Police Association is calling on Chief Brown to resign. The Dallas Police Association admits that the city’s police department “lacks direction.” See, “Alarming Violent Crime Increase Forces Massive Dallas Police Overhaul; Some Call For Chief To Resign,” published March 28, 2016 in the Dallas Morning News.

From a defense lawyer standpoint, this news story means that in the next few months we’re going to be seeing a lot more felony arrests for violent crimes here in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. If the crime rate is going up, then law enforcement has a duty to protect and serve. Or at least give the perception that they are doing their job.

Murder rate skyrocketing? Then the public is going to demand their police department show them some results, and that means more arrests — and arrests that make the news. That’s the way it works.

Unfortunately, some innocent people are going to be arrested in all this hubbub. Some people are going to be over – charged with felony crimes that are much higher than the circumstances warrant (or that the evidence will support). And some people are going to be facing serious felony charges, which bring with them many years behind bars and even the possibility of capital punishment.

This is going to involve more than just the local police. Make no mistake: prosecutors here will be anxious to incarcerate anyone brought to them by the local police for prosecution on a violent crime.


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State Jail Vs. State Prison In Texas

That’s not a new trend, however. The State of Texas is more than happy to have people behind bars — Texas has more prisoners behind bars in any other state in the country. Texas state prisons are full of folk serving time already.

There’s a lot of discussion going on right now about how to deal with the fact that Texas has had prison population that is bursting at the seams. And let’s hope some answers are found, and found soon, because right now, it’s a very good argument that being incarcerated in a Texas state prison is cruel and unusual punishment.

So, if you are being investigated for a violent crime, or have been arrested on a felony charge, then you need to be ready to defend against being placed in one of these facilities, or if you have to go there, limiting the amount of time that you must live in a Texas prison cell.

Spending time in one of these overcrowded state prison facility is something you definitely want to avoid or minimize. Why? The conditions and state prisons are notoriously lacking in basic health and safety needs, including air-conditioning or even fans for inmates confined in cells during Texas summers where internal prison temperatures can exceed 110°.

Moreover, it is distinctly possible that the inmate serving time in a Texas state prison may himself or herself become a victim of crime, as the Texas state prison system has a national reputation of being the “prison rape capital of the United States.”

Texas state jails are different, but they are no walk in the park either. For those convicted of low level drug possession, then they may likely be serving time in a Texas state jail. Sounds safer than a Texas state prison, right? Well, maybe.

If you are sentenced to serve time in a Texas state jail, it’s likely that you will have to serve your entire sentence, no matter how good your behavior. No parole here.

State Jail time is day for day, whereas it is possible in prison to earn good time and parole. Knowing that there’s no possibility of early release may create less incentive on the part of your fellow inmates to conform to the rules and regulations. Result? State jails here in Texas have the reputation for more aggressive behavior among their population. You might get in a fight while serving time in a state jail, even if it’s designed to host non-violent offenders.

Criminal Defense Negotiations: State Jail or Texas Prison

The reality right now is that if you are arrested in North Texas, you need to be prepared to aggressively defend yourself, as well as to negotiate zealously to minimize any sentence that you may be facing.

First, there is the fight to get the charges dismissed; absent that, the fight becomes what is the most appropriate penalty in your particular case.

When you’re arrested for violating a provision of the Texas Penal Code, then you are facing prosecution under a specific Texas law and the district attorney for the county in which you were arrested will be seeking to convict you and send you either to a Texas state jail or a Texas prison.

That specific Texas statute is important: it defines the crime, and it defines the penalty it carries. The prosecutor does not get to choose which location you are sentenced to live during the time of your punishment. Under the Texas Penal Code, certain felonies carry with them a punishment of being held in a Texas state jail (“state jail felony”) or in a Texas prison.

Not all felonies are the same.

First, second, and third-degree felonies in Texas carry with them a possible penalty of surveying anywhere between two and 99 years in a Texas state prison. State jail felonies carry with them a penalty of anywhere between six months to two years in a Texas state jail. (Misdemeanors at any level, class A, B, or C, carry with them a penalty of no time behind bars or the maximum of one year in the local county jail).

Accordingly, it is very important when facing any kind of conviction and sentence in a Texas criminal court that the defendant try and minimize the amount of time behind bars, as well as the location of where that time will be spent.

Plea negotiations work here not only to argue for (1) the minimal amount of time contained in the penalty as it is defined in the statute, but also to fight for (2) convictions based upon crimes that are of the least severity possible.

A conviction for a state jail felony means serving time in a Texas state jail instead of the overpopulated Texas prison system. It is possible that plea negotiations can result in a conviction for a lower felony charge, even though the prosecutor was at first seeking conviction on a first, second, or third degree felony.

That’s part of the job of criminal defense lawyer in plea negotiations: to take the facts of the case and convince the prosecutor that given the evidence he or she has on their table, this is the best deal for everyone.

Plea Negotiations and Sentencing Hearings

Here, a plea deal may involve, for example, the prosecutor agreeing to reduce a second-degree felony charge to a “state jail felony” or even a misdemeanor under the Texas Penal Code and seek minimal time behind bars, if the defendant agrees to avoid the trial and enter a guilty plea on the lesser charge.

If the plea deal is made, then both the prosecutor and defense attorney appear before the criminal court judge to present their plea deal. The criminal judge can accept or refuse it. If the judge will not accept the plea deal the defendant can withdraw his guilty plea. Most plea agreements are accepted by the court.

It’s also possible to work out a lesser charge or lower sentence directly with the criminal court judge. A Texas criminal defense lawyer may argue his case before the criminal court judge during a sentencing hearing, using the same kind of facts and circumstances and legal arguments as used in a plea negotiation with a prosecutor.

That’s because in Texas, the criminal court judge may impose sentencing herself after ordering a pre-sentence investigation (reporting on the defendant’s criminal and social history, as well as what happened in the circumstances of the crime), as well a hearing the arguments of defense counsel and any recommendations from the state.

Texas State Jails or Texas Prisons: Sentencing Defense

Here’s the bottom line: when you are facing serious felony criminal charges, your life is at stake. Your freedom, for many years, is going to be taken away from you by the government if they can get a conviction.

The lives of your loved ones and family members are also going to be hurt here – you won’t be able to visit with them, earn a living for your family, play with your kids, make sure your mother gets to the doctor. They’re going to have to fend without you now.

Criminal defense lawyers are entrusted with making sure that the system doesn’t fall short of the rights and protections that every single individual deserves in this country. Criminal defense involves protecting individuals against government errors or misconduct.

At times, that means protecting people from wrongdoing on the part of police and prosecutors. Other times, it means protecting people from over-reaching prosecutors who are wanting a “win” in a big felony conviction even if that’s an inappropriate charge.

Sentencing can mean as big of a fight for justice as the fight against any kind of conviction in the first place. Especially in Texas, with the current conditions that our prison and jail systems provide.

For more, check our our web resources page or Michael Lowe’s Case Results as well as his article:


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