You’ve been arrested or received a ticket on a state charge. Now what? In Texas, we have three levels of misdemeanor charges and four levels of felonies. Misdemeanors are classified as A, B or C with Class C misdemeanors being the lowest level. Felonies are classified as State Jail, 3rd Degree, 2nd Degree or 1st Degree.
Class C Misdemeanors
Class C misdemeanors are often ticketed offenses that are dealt with locally at the municipal level and carry the potential of a fine only. A ticket is turned over to the municipal clerk by the law enforcement agency. On your copy of the ticket there is a time frame which sets out when you must contact the clerk to resolve the ticket. Tickets can often be resolved by paying the fine assessed, taking advantage of a specialized resolution, such as a driver’s safety class, or challenging the ticket by requesting a trial. Note that by paying the fine you will have a conviction for the ticketed offense.
Class A and B Misdemeanors
Class A and B misdemeanors are crimes that carry the potential for incarceration in the local jail. Note that some jurisdictions have made the decision to issue a citation and notice to appear in court rather than make an arrest on specific misdemeanors such as possession of small amounts of marijuana or low-level thefts. That does not mean the charge has been reduced to a Class C misdemeanor. Upon arrest for a Class A or B misdemeanor, you will be taken into custody. Eventually, you will be brought before a magistrate judge and bond conditions will be set for your release. In the meantime, the arresting agency drafts a report and sends the evidence obtained from the arrest to the County District Attorney’s Office. There, the misdemeanor charge will go through an intake process. Many larger counties have a specialized intake division within the District Attorney’s Office. During the intake process, the District Attorney will either accept the case, refuse the case or communicate with the arresting agency for more information. Misdemeanors have a statute of limitations of 2 years for the District Attorney to file the case. Once the case has been accepted and filed it moves forward with the assigned court.
Felonies are the most serious of charges within the Texas legal system and carry the potential of a prison sentence. As with Class A/B misdemeanors, felonies usually involve an arrest. A bond amount and bond conditions are set for possible release. However, in addition to the intake process done by the County District Attorney’s Office, there is the additional step of the Grand Jury. A Grand Jury does not decide guilt or innocence. Think of the Grand Jury as the quality control aspect of the criminal justice system. Once a case has been accepted by the District Attorney, they present their evidence to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury may consider additional information provided in a specialized format from the defense but does not hear directly from the defense. It is the Grand Jury that decides if a case should move forward. A Grand Jury will either issue a ‘No Bill’, which means deny the case from moving forward, or ‘Indict’, which then moves the case forward. Most felonies have a statute of limitations of 3 years for the District Attorney to file the case but for some crimes the statute of limitations is much longer.
It is in your best interest to consult with a defense attorney as soon as possible. As mentioned previously, waiting for a case to be filed limits your defense team. Once a criminal case is filed, a clock has been started with the eventual result being either a dismissal, a plea agreement or a trial.