Criminal activities vary in serevity. Crimes that are most egregious require, among other things, intent. The world of criminal law is “high stakes,” as the ramifications of breaking the law can carry significant consequences. Criminal law covers a wide range of areas including:
- Miranda Rights: An individual has rights during police questioning, such as the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.4th Amendment Rights: The Fourth Amendment protects an individual from unreasonable search, seizure, and arrest.
- Right to Legal Counsel: Everyone has the right to competent legal counsel throughout the criminal justice system, even upon appeal.
- Right to a Speedy Trial: Everyone has the right to a trial within a “reasonable” period of time.
- Protection from Double Jeopardy: Everyone has the right not to be tried for the same crime twice.
- 6th Amendment Rights: Everyone has the right to confront anyone who accuses you of a crime. The cross examination of a witness during trial is an example of 6th Amendment rights.
- Protection from Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Everyone has the right to be protected from unduly harsh punishment.
- Prisoners’ Civil Rights: Those, convicted of crimes and incarcerated, maintain civil rights such as the right to be free from sexual crimes and sexual harassment, the right to complain about prison facilities, the right to appeal their cases, the right for disabled prisoners to have access to programs, the right to medical care, and the right to mental health care.
There is no “right side” of a DWI conviction―you’re either the victim or the offender. If you find yourself on the side wearing handcuffs, you’re going to need some help.
- Mostly, DWI crimes are related to your BAC when operating a motor vehicle and certain other circumstances (as you’ll see below). However, officers can arrest you for other alcohol-related crimes involving your vehicle.
- For example, it’s illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of your vehicle if you’re driving or parked on a public highway (Texas defines the “passenger area” as the area designed for people to sit in while traveling).
- A simple open container violation results in a maximum $500 fine and a Class C misdemeanor. However, if you’re arrested for DWI and open container, you’ll get a Class B misdemeanor and a minimum of 6 days in jail.
If information is expunged from someone’s record, it is sealed and, legally, it is as if the arrest or conviction never happened. Only certain governmental agencies have access to the sealed portions of a criminal record.
In Texas, felonies are crimes punishable by terms that must be served in state prison or state jail. Less serious crimes (misdemeanors) are punishable by up to one year in local or county jail. There are various levels of felonies as follows:
In Texas, capital felonies are punishable by death or life without parole. Murder is an example of a capital felony.
If the defendant was a juvenile at the time the crime was committed and the prosecutor chooses not to seek the death penalty, then a capital felony is punishable by life imprisonment. (Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.31.)
First Degree Felony
A conviction for a first degree felony can result in life imprisonment or five to 99 years’ imprisonment, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. Sexual assault against a child is a first degree felony in Texas. (Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.32.)
For more information on sex crimes and penalties in Texas, see Texas Sexual Battery Laws.
Second Degree Felony
Under Texas law, second degree felonies are punishable by two to 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000. Causing serious injury to a family member is a second degree felony. (Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.33.)
For more information on domestic abuse, see Texas Domestic Violence Laws.
Third Degree Felony
A third degree felony is punishable by two to ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. For example, possession of five to 50 pounds of marijuana is a third degree felony. (Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.34.)
For more information on crimes involving marijuana, see Texas Marijuana Laws.
State Jail Felony
In Texas, state jail felonies are punishable by 180 days to two years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
If lawmakers identify a crime as a felony but fail to designate it as a particular kind of felony or set a specific sentence, then the felony is a state jail felony.
A judge must punish a defendant convicted of a state jail felony to a third degree felony term if:
- the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon in the commission of the crime, or
- the defendant has previously been convicted of a felony. (Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 12.04, 12.35.)
For example, a conviction for theft is a state jail felony if the thing stolen is:
- a firearm
- livestock worth up to $20,000, or
- property (other than livestock) worth between $1,500 and $20,000.
When juveniles aged 10 through 16 break the law, they go before a juvenile court judge. If you are 17 or older, you are an adult, subject to the adult justice system. Children under 10 may not be prosecuted for any criminal activity.
The juvenile justice system is based on the belief that juveniles are different from adults, and juveniles who commit crimes generally should be treated differently from adults. Separate courts, detention facilities and laws were created for juveniles with the intent to protect their welfare and rehabilitate them.
However, the law provides stiff penalties for juveniles who persist in breaking the law. Juveniles may face long sentences for committing serious felonies. This may even include serving time in adult prison.
Where to Get Help with Criminal Law Matters
If you or a loved one has been accused of or arrested for a crime, or if you just need more information, seek the guidance of qualified criminal law attorney.