What’s The Difference Between Misdemeanors and Felonies?

Every criminal penalty in the state of Texas is either a misdemeanor or a felony. The former being the less severe and the latter being the one where you are in serious trouble. However even within these two categories, there are subcategories within them that determine the minimum sentence and potential fines. In this page we'll go over every type of felony and misdemeanor in Texas law.

Table of Contents

The full explanation for misdemeanors in the lonestar state is explained in full detail (and full jargon) on the official state site here. We’re going to begin with misdemeanors which are the less severe of the two types of crime and look at the different categories of misdemeanors. After that we’ll do the same for felonies. This section was last updated Aug 7th, 2021 and will be updated again if relevant bills impact these sections on September 1st of 2021 when upcoming bills go into effect.

Also, an important thing to note before we get into the details, these are just guidelines the state recommends for sentencing. A good attorney that negotiates an agreement with the state, may be able to get you a better deal than the sentences below might dictate.

Types of Misdemeanors

There are three classifications of misdemanors in the state and they are, from the most severe in terms of penalties to the least severe, as follows:

  1. Class A Misdemeanors
  2. Class B Misdemeanors
  3. Class C Misdemeanors

We’re going to go into what each category means as far as sentencing is to be concerned. However the basic picture is that each crime (DWI, Gambling, Prostitution..etc) is going to be put into one of those categories. Furthermore, and why the law seems unnecessary complex in every state, in the eyes of the law a “DWI 2nd offense” is not the same as a “DWI First Offense.” These are different categories of offenses and are placed into different categories of misdemeanors.

It is true that felonies are much more serious (and we will get to that) but, crucially, there is a fine line, with severe consequences, between the different types of misdemeanors in Texas. Understanding whether your crime or your spouses or friends crime is a Class A misdemeanor or a Class C misdemeanor could be the difference between extended jail time and the softest of slaps on the wrist.

Penalties For Class C Misdemeanor

We’ll go in reverse order of how the guidelines are displayed and begin with Class C misdemeanors which are the least severe of Texas’ misdemeanors. If convicted of a Class C Misdemeanor, one is merely given (at most) a fine of up to $500 and is required to serve no jail time. As we continue to add information about Texas laws we’ll update this section with the types of laws that are categorized as Class C Misdemeanors but an might include a first time public intoxication offense.

Penalties For Class B Misdemeanor

A Class B Misdemeanor is a bit more serious and when the state feels as though you have either done something more severe or are a repeat offender. The penalty for a Class B misdemeanor can take one of two forms (or both). Potential punishments for a Class B Misdemeanor in Texas are some combination of the following three:

  • A fine of up to $2,000 (notice the ‘up to’. $2,000 is the maximum possible amount for a class B misdemeanor).
  • Sentenced to jail time for a period of up to 180 days in jail. Again, six months may sound like a very long time (and in jail it almost certainly is) but keep in mind this the absolute maximum sentence.
  • These two criteria are not mutually exclusive and you can receive both a fine and jail time for your offense. The state made sure to add this section in order to avoid loopholes.

Penalties For Class A Misdemeanor

A Class A Misdemeanor is the maximum penalty that can be imposed by the state for a criminal offense without making the crime a felony.

  • Now you can be fined up to $4,000.
  • Can be confined to jail time for up to a year. However this is where the first major distinction comes, the sentence can be “up to a year” but also “no less than 90 days.” A qualifier that makes it all but certain that if convicted you will have to spend some period of time in confinement.
  • Just like Class B Misdemeanors, you could receive both the hefty fine and minimum jail time.

Penalties For Felonies in Texas

Moving to Section 12.04 of the Texas penal code, we descend into the complex realm of felonies. The more severe of the two types of offenses, felonies are broken into five separate categories.

  1. Capital Felonies.
  2. Felonies of the First Degree.
  3. Felonies of the Second Degree.
  4. Felonies of the Third Degree.
  5. State jail felonies.

Capital Felony

Capital Felonies belong to the most severe class of felonies (and felonies are more severe than misdemeanors). Texas breaks up capital penalties into two further subclasses. Those cases where the state chooses to seek the death penalty, and those where it does not.

Capital Felonies Where The State Does Not Seek Death Penalty

When the state does not seek the death penalty, there are two outcomes if convicted:

(1) Life in jail with the possibility of parole IF the offender is under the age of 18.

(2) Life without the possibility of parole if the offender is an adult (over 18).

Capital Felonies Where The State Does Seek Death Penalty

Now, there’s the even darker side of things: when the state does choose to seek the death penalty. If convicted there are only two options: either the felon is sentenced to death or a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. However, as the jury is informed at trial, this is the mandatory sentence if they are convicted.

Felonies of the First Degree

Felonies of the first degree are not in danger of receiving the death penalty but may be sentenced to any prison sentence of up to 99 years. Five years is going to be the minimum sentence for someone convicted of a first-degree offense.

Felonies of the Second Degree

Felonies of the second degree are a little less severe than First degree (and first is less severe than a capital felony) offenses. A second-degree penalty is punishable by up to twenty years of jail time. Conversely, the minimum sentence for someone convicted of a second-degree felony is two years.

Felonies of the Third Degree

Third-degree felonies are now even less severe in the eyes of the state of Texas as they carry a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. The minimum sentence for a third-degree murder is the same as a second-degree murder: two years in jail.

State jail felonies 

Finally moving to section 12.35 of Chapter 12 of the penal code, we get to State Jail felonies which are the lowest tier (in terms of severity) of felonies that can be committed in Texas. State jail felonies require only that the person be apprehended in state jail in lieu of an actual prison. However this jail time must be for a period between two years (at the very most) to 180 days (at minimum).

Difference Between Jail and Prison

A fundamental feature of the justice system both inside of Texas and outside of the state is the distinction between jails and prisons. Similar to understanding how bills become laws, the benefit of learning this now is that it’s applicable to the entire country.

You can think of jails as low-security type holding cells. Facilities that are used to temporarily hold those that are awaiting trial or just to get them off the street (think about possession of marijuana or a DWI first offense). The type of facilities that you often see in old school movies where the sheriff or deputy is casually talking to some inmate who is explaining that he didn’t do it. Prison, on the other hand, are the real deal. These are full-fledged facilities where you only go once convicted of a crime. They can be minimum or maximum security establishments and are run either by the state or federal government.