Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What crime gets which sentence?

I am often asked about the range of punishment for various crimes.

You know, someone comes up to me and says, "So, what if a friend of mine was caught stealing a walrus from the zoo? What's he looking at, punishment-wise?"
I say: "A friend?"
And he says: "Sure. A friend. Why would I want a walrus?"
Then we figure out how much the walrus is worth and I give him an answer. (Assuming the walrus is not carrying a wad of counterfeit dollars, a bag of cocaine, or an AK-47, the Internet tells me it's about $14,000 on the black market. Like some guy in Minneapolis has one up his sleeve or tucked inside his raincoat.)

Anyway, I only deal with felonies, so let's start with those. In Texas, we have four levels of felony:
  • First degree
  • Second degree
  • Third degree
  • State jail
I'll start at the bottom of the ladder with the state jail felony ("SJF"). If you are convicted of one of these, you are looking at one of four possibilities:
  1. A spell in the state jail of between six months (the min) and two years (the max);
  2. A jail term (per 1., above) that is probated for up to five years;
  3. A spell in the county jail from one day to 12 months. This one is achieved through a special provision of Texas law that gives you a felony conviction, but allows for county jail time.
So, I hear you ask, what's the difference between county and state jail?

Well thanks for asking.

The difference is that if you are sent to the state jail for, say, one year, then you will do every day of that year--no credit for good time, no parole. It's day-for-day, as we say.

County jail, though, is not. A year sentence in the county jail usually ends up being six months of time served, as you get a two-for-one credit if you behave. In fact, if you become a trustee (for example, this) you can get three-for-one credit. A year sentence thus becomes either six or four months. You can see why defense lawyers and their clients angle for number 3., above.

So what crimes are state jail felonies? Here's a few of the most common SJFs that we see:
  • possession of a controlled substance in an amount of less than one gram (e.g., cocaine, meth, crack, heroin, but not marijuana);
  • theft of property worth between $1,500 and $20,000 (e.g, a walrus);
  • burglary of a building (as opposed to a habitation);
  • driving while intoxicated, with a passenger under the age of 15;
  • evading arrest in a vehicle (only if it's your first time, though!).
Some other crimes which are usually misdemeanors can be bumped up to SJFs, if you accumulate enough of them. For example, theft of property worth any amount is a SJF if you have two prior misdemeanor theft convictions. Likewise, prostitution becomes a SJF if you have three previous convictions for prostitution.

When I get to know you better, or when enough people beg nicely, I'll tell you a story about a prostitution trial I had a few years back. Crazy days.


  1. Interesting post. Keep'em coming I am enjoying reading them. I like to write and read crime stories so this to me is great.

    In Texas do they have a separate penalty phase trial in death penalty cases such as California?


  2. Hi Steve,

    In Texas we always have two phases. In fact, since you asked, I will write a post about it. For tomorrow.

  3. Let me suggest a related topic of interest: Which sentences get probated and why?

    Perhaps for another day. Keep it up.

  4. I was arrested in harris county for fraudulent theft of a controlled substance (doctor shopping)my 1st felony the only thing I have is a dui from 5 years ago. It is a felony 3.Can you tell me what is the usual deal offered or what if convected. The DA is saying 3 years. We have not plea bargined yet. Thank you for your opinion.

  5. Hi anon, thanks for posting. I'm afraid there are about ten reasons I can't really answer your question. Mostly because you MUST get a lawyer to help you, a criminal defense lawyer. I'm not even in Harris County, so have no idea how they even do plea negotiations. So, again, please do contact a local defense lawyer. Best of luck.

  6. How much time would you serve in Texas if you are sentenced to 3 years for DWI3?

  7. Hmmm, no idea really. I'm sure it would depend on lots of factors, but ultimately it'd be up to the parole board.

  8. Hi, would you go to jail in Texas for smuggling whitetail deer?

  9. You know, I have no idea. I do have a feeling that at this point I should make a joke about getting arrested for that costing you a few bucks...

  10. Hello,
    My fiancé was sentenced to 22 months state jail. He was a did about 3 weeks in county before released on appeal bond. Recently he was locked back up for voilation of bond. He was sentenced to start his time. Meanwhile he made trustee the first tine 3 days later and this second time less than 12 hours later. Both times without signing up. Can you tell me how much time we should be lookong at for him to finish up?

  11. C.F., i think what you're asking is for legal advice and I'm afraid I just can't give it. Not that I wouldn't want to help, but I'm not allowed to and also I just don't know that much about how they credit time. Sorry!

  12. Curious, a man in Texas has been charged with his FIRST F3, his plea deal was 5yrs TDCJ. He has been in county spread since October 23,2014.. What are the chance being first unaggravated charge, NO priors that can parole out of jail. Aren't the Texas prisons over crowded already enough?

  13. My husband is in jail for mtr burglary of habitation and they offered her trustee three for one and 3500 bond and holding for transport if she does the trustee will those three for one still go to her and how long can they hold her


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