Texas divides misdemeanor offenses into three classes: Class A, B, and C misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are punishable by a year or less in a local jail, a fine, or both. More serious offenses—those punishable by longer terms in state jail or prison—fall under the category of felonies.
This article will cover misdemeanor classifications, penalties, enhancements, and sentencing options in Texas.
Below are the maximum penalties allowed for each misdemeanor class and examples of crimes by class.
Class A misdemeanors carry a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Examples of class A misdemeanors include violating a protective order, criminal trespass of a home, perjury, and online impersonation.
Texas law provides enhanced penalties for repeat misdemeanor convictions. In some instances, the law's general enhancement applies. Other misdemeanors—such as assault, theft, and family violence crimes—impose enhanced penalties for having a prior conviction for the same or similar offense. And throughout the Texas Penal Code, certain misdemeanors carry increased penalties when the defendant targets a vulnerable or protected individual, targets a victim based on bias or prejudice, or commits the crime in a declared disaster or evacuation area. An enhanced penalty may increase the offense level or impose a mandatory minimum jail sentence.
In some instances, Texas law provides even harsher enhancements—a person can face felony penalties based on prior convictions, increased levels of harm or risk of harm, protected victim status, or a combination of these.
Assault provides a good example of these felony enhancements. Assault involving bodily injury starts as a class A misdemeanor, but the following circumstances increase the offense to a third-degree felony. The defendant assaults:
If the assault causes serious bodily injuries, the crime becomes a second-degree felony. This same enhancement applies when a defendant knowingly assaults an on-duty cop or judge.
Other crimes carry similar enhanced felony penalties, such as theft, burglary, and financial exploitation of an elderly adult.
Upon a guilty plea or verdict, a judge will normally impose a misdemeanor sentence immediately or soon thereafter. Several sentencing options are available, including jail time, payment of fines, fees, or restitution, community service hours, and no-contact orders. The judge can also order sentencing alternatives, such as commitment to a treatment center for chemical dependency or mental health issues. Below are additional options available in most misdemeanor cases.
If ordering jail time, the judge may allow a defendant to serve the sentence during off-work hours, on weekends, or under house arrest. A court might also permit a defendant to work off jail time by completing community service hours.
A judge can also order jail time but suspend the sentence and place the defendant on community supervision (probation) for up to two years. The jail sentence remains suspended only as long as the defendant follows the terms set by the judge. Standard terms typically include obeying all laws, checking in with a probation officer, paying restitution to victims, and going to work or school. Depending on the offense, a defendant might also be subject to no-contact orders, treatment or education course requirements, driver's license suspension, or electronic monitoring. The judge can also order the defendant to serve up to 30 days in jail.
Judges may also accept a defendant's guilty plea but hold off on announcing a sentence. Referred to as deferred adjudication, this option allows eligible defendants to avoid a criminal conviction and record. The judge will set conditions the defendant must meet to get the case dismissed. Failure to abide by the terms means the judge can continue with sentencing. For misdemeanors, deferred adjudication can last up to two years.
As a condition of community supervision or deferred adjudication, a defendant may qualify to participate in a specialty court, such as a drug court, mental health court, or veteran's treatment court. These courts provide intensive supervision and require frequent court appearances by defendants. Led by multidisciplinary teams, the program intends to address underlying issues of criminal behavior, such as chemical dependency, mental health issues, or trauma-related conditions. Availability and types of treatment courts vary by county.
Some prosecutor's offices run pretrial diversion programs which offer defendants a chance to avoid criminal court and a record altogether. Not all prosecutors offer pretrial diversion programs and, in those that do, eligibility varies. Similar to deferred adjudication, a defendant in a pretrial diversion program must abide by conditions, which can last up to two years. Successful completion means the prosecutor will dismiss the charges. The prosecutor can resume the case if the defendant violates or fails to meet any conditions.
Any criminal conviction, even a misdemeanor conviction, can have serious consequences, including time in jail and a fine. If you are charged with a crime in Texas, contact a local criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to fare in court based on the law, the facts, and the assigned judge and prosecutor. With an attorney's help, you can obtain the best possible outcome under the circumstances.
(Tex. Code Crim. Proc. arts. 42.031, 42.033, 42.035, 42A.101, 42A.102; Tex. Gov't Code § 76.011, chs. 121 to 130; Tex. Health & Safety Code § 462.031; Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.21, 12.22, 12.23, 12.43, 12.47, 12.50 (2021).)