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Texas Criminal Laws

In the criminal justice system, statutes are the laws that determine what exactly makes something a crime, and what kind of punishment can follow. Also called penal or criminal laws, statutes are created by the Texas state legislature to essentially tell citizens where the line is drawn. Cross that line and you’re facing fines and/or jail time, so it’s important to know those statutes and understand where the line lands.

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Texas vs. Federal Statues

The main difference between Texas state statutes and federal statutes is pretty obvious – it all comes down to where they were written. Texas statutes are passed by the state congress and only apply to actions or behaviors within state lines. Federal statutes are created in Washington, D.C. to serve as the law of the land, covering all 50 states.

Because of this, where a crime is allegedly committed matters. For example, if you assault someone or are found to be carrying drugs on the street in Texas, you’ll face a different set of consequences than if the incident happens on federal land (in a national park or military base).  And typically, those consequences will be more severe, since Texas statutes are enforced by state courts and law enforcement agencies, while federal statutes get elevated to national courts and agencies.

The wording of Texas statutes may differ slightly from their counterparts at the federal level, but both work together to enforce laws that keep the public safe. Looking just at Texas statutes, you’ll find that all crimes generally fall into four different categories.

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Felonies

Carrying the strictest punishments, felonies are typically reserved for the most heinous crimes. In the state of Texas, a felony conviction will generally carry a minimum sentence of one year in prison along with other penalties that range from fines to community service. But there are other circumstances that can change the severity of a felony, broken down by five types of felony:

  • Capital Felonies: Reserved for the most severe crimes, carrying a punishment of life in prison or even the death penalty.
  • First-Degree Felonies: Fines that run to $10,000 and sentencing that runs anywhere from five years to life in prison.
  • Second-Degree Felonies: Fines that run to $10,000 and sentencing between 2-20 years in prison.
  • Third-Degree Felony: Fines that run to $10,000 and sentencing between 2-10 years in prison.
  • State Jail Felonies: Fines that run to $10,000 and sentencing between 180 days and 2 years in state jail.

 
While these bullet points give you the general overview, it’s important to remember that the details of the offense and the defendant’s own criminal history will impact the specific penalties.

Misdemeanors

While still a serious violation of the law, a misdemeanor is by definition a lesser crime than a felony. While jail time and fines are lower, a misdemeanor is still a serious offense, with up to a year in prison along with fines a possible outcome. Much like felonies, misdemeanors are broken down in to different categories with their own sets of consequences.

  • Class A: Covering crimes ranging from DWI to assault with bodily injury and even theft, this type of misdemeanor carries fines up to $4,000 and up to a year in county jail.
  • Class B: Covering crimes ranging from possession of under 2 oz. of marijuana to driving with a suspended license, this type of misdemeanor carries fines up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in county jail.
  • Class C: The least severe misdemeanor, covering offenses such as public intoxication, disorderly conduct or serious traffic violations, this type carries a fine up to $500.

 
As with felonies, the specifics of the case and the defendant’s criminal history can have a massive impact on the specific punishment. As such, it’s crucial that you consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing charges in the state of Texas.

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How Understanding the Law Can Help You

The law can be a tricky thing to fully understand and master, and even experienced attorneys will tell you there is more to learn every day. After all, the codes and statues that make up Texas criminal law, known as the Texas Penal Code, is updated all the time as new laws are passed.

However, even just a basic understanding of the law, which you can attain if you are willing to put in the work, can be crucial in helping you defend your rights. Not only that, whether or not you have an attorney at your side, it can help you build a strong defense for yourself by identifying weaknesses in the case against. The full text of the Texas Penal Code is a public document, and here is a brief primer on how learning more about it can help you.

Building Your Defense: Before you can defend against the charges, you need to know the charges inside and out, including any specifics on offenses and punishments. A better understanding of each element of the charges against you will be extremely helpful in identifying potential strategies and then acting on them.

Counterattacking: A more thorough understanding of the charges against you can do more than just help you work on your defense, it can help you strike back. If you know the law and the lay of the land, you’ll be better equipped to negotiate a plea deal. If you understanding your constitutional rights pertaining to evidence, you can identify what is inadmissible, what can be challenged and what can be suppressed.

Knowing your Rights: Being arrested is not the same as being found guilty. It is merely the first step the state will take in building a case against you, trying you, and prosecuting you. But at any moment from that arrest until the final verdict, you are innocent in the eyes of the law. It is your right as an American to stand up before the law and prove it. And that means investing in yourself, enlisting the help of an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

An understanding of the law is a great first step in defending yourself. But the most important step to take next is to hire an attorney. Their skills and experience can help alleviate the stress that comes from criminal charges. They can help build your confidence in your defense. And they can help get the charges against you reduced or dismissed altogether.

How Your Attorney Will Fight Your Charges

Not only will an experienced attorney help you defend against the charges against you, they can serve as an early deterrent to the prosecution leveling charges in the first place. A practiced attorney, one who takes the time to truly understand your case and can present the facts and narrative that prove your innocence, can often get the prosecution to drop any charges before they are formally filed. This happens more often than you think, often due to:

  • • Lack of Witnesses or Evidence: Without anyone to come forward to support the state’s case, it can quickly fall apart. Likewise, rather than waste time pursuing charges on evidence they know is flimsy, prosecutors will often opt to drop the pursuit altogether.
  • • Legal Questions: Even the chance that there may have been some procedural error or violation of a defendant’s rights, during the initial arrest or at any point in the trial, can signal a hard case ahead for the prosecution. You are protected by the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments, and any violations can lead to a quick dismissal.
  • • Lack of Public Interest: The law exists to protect the public’s safety, first and foremost. In the absence of any threat to public safety, prosecutors may choose to reject the charges.
  • • Lack of Resources: Prosecutors generally do not have the time or resources to pursue more complex cases, leading to withdrawn charges or a plea bargain. Under a plea bargain, the prosecution will work with the defendant to secure a guilty plea to a lesser charge or a reduced prison sentence.

 

And even if your attorney is unable to get the charges against you reduced or dismissed outright, their experience and preparation is the key to winning a in a criminal or civil case. The knowledge they provide, both of the law and of the particulars of your case, are vital in responding to the challenges your case provides. This helps your attorney build a defense that can withstand anything the prosecution can throw at them and build credibility with a jury or a judge. Few things can derail a case like unanticipated challenges, but nothing protects you from them like preparation.

Defending Your Freedom

It falls to the prosecution to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” meaning that a reasonable person would have no doubt that the defendant is guilty. Your attorney’s job is to create that doubt. While every case is different and the details of charges against someone will vary, there are a variety of common defenses that an attorney will employ to create that doubt and see you acquitted. These include:

  • • False Accusation: The false accusation defense casts doubt on the accusers’ motives, introducing enough reasonable doubt for an acquittal.
  • • Proof of Innocence: This defense can rely on evidence such as witness testimony, a compelling alibi or even video evidence that prove you could not have committed the crime.
  • • Self-Defense: In cases where the defendant is charged with some kind of assault or battery, an attorney may introduce evidence showing they acted to protect themselves or others.
  • • Extenuating Circumstances: In this defense, an attorney can illustrate to a jury that their client did not act of their own free will, either being forced to commit the crime under duress or entrapped into committing the crime by law enforcement.

 

Each of these defenses have one thing in common. They all rely on an attorney who can take the correct legal actions to challenge a case, digging into the details and examining each shred of evidence for opportunity.

Before the trial even begins, your attorney will examine all of the evidence at hand, uncovering anything that could help your case and challenging anything that could be deemed inadmissible. They will also file motions with the judge, creating a wall around certain evidence to keep it from being presented at trial. This is called a “Motion in Limine” and helps to ensure a fair trial.

By finding witnesses for your defense, negotiating plea deals, fine tuning the jury selection and limiting the case against you, your attorney can speed up your trial and guide you to a better outcome. This can range from reducing sentencing following a guilty verdict, reducing charges against you before the trial begins, or having the case dismissed out of hand.

When Should You Contact an Attorney?

In general, the sooner the better. If the police have shown up at your home or place of business, or have been asking questions about you, it’s safe to assume they think you’re guilty. Even if they don’t have probable cause to present any formal charges against you, this interest signals that they are working on it.

If this happens, never forget that you have rights enshrined in the constitution. Simply let the investigator or officer know that you will remain silent, do not consent to any search of your person or property and let them know that you would like an attorney present. Until that attorney arrives, anything you say will be admissible in court and could be used against you.

Many attorneys or law firms offer a free case evaluation where they will review the details of the case against you, assessing any strengths or weaknesses and offering legal options and strategies that may be of use. This will help both you and your prospective attorney better understand your case, and those who understand their case have a greater chance of winning.

TXCriminalLAws.com offers free, no obligation case evaluations 24 hours a day. Contact us now to begin fighting for your freedom.

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