Texas Criminal Law: An Overview

Texas has a famous and proud history of independence and resilience. Once the biggest state in the Union at 268,597 square miles, the Lone Star State is synonymous with classic American cowboy culture. While firearm laws in Texas are some of the most lenient in the country, the state is still relatively heavy-handed in criminal law. Its misdemeanors and felonies can steeply scale up in monetary fines and imprisonment lengths. Texas also leads the nation as having executed the most prisoners in history.

Capital Punishment in Texas

Texas has the highest number of death penalty executions of any state in the United States. There have been more than 500 executions in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974, at a current rate of more than 10 executions per year since 2010. Despite these high rates, the number of new death sentences handed down per year has been in decline since around 2000.

Capital punishment is usually reserved for felonies involving murder (like of an on-duty police officer or firefighter, a hired assassination (for both the murderer and the employer), multiple homicides, etc.).

Note that in Texas, capital felonies don't always result in a death penalty. Life imprisonment without parole for criminals aged 18 years and older is another and less costly option.

Texas Felonies and Misdemeanors

Criminal cases in Texas are generally categorized as felonies or misdemeanors, depending on their nature and the maximum punishment. Texas, like each state in America, is free to draft its own new criminal laws.

That means that if an act is deemed a crime in Arlington, Texas, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a crime in New Orleans, Louisiana or any other state. But state laws do have to be constitutional. Many state laws around the country have been deemed unconstitutional by federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

A felony in Texas is a serious criminal charge punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one year and a fine of up to $10,000. Most state criminal laws divide felonies into different classes with varying degrees of punishment. Crimes that don’t amount to felonies are often called misdemeanors. In Texas, a misdemeanor is typically misconduct that the law provides punishment of one year or less in prison and a fine of up to $4,000. Minor offenses like traffic violations and public nuisance are often called infractions.

Texas DWI Laws

Texas has relatively strict DWI laws. Many people think "drunk driving" when they hear DWI, but someone who is high or on prescription medication can be charged with DWI. Any impairment can result in charges if a driver in impaired behind the wheel.

A police officer can charge a driver with DWI if it is determined that the driver is impaired to the “slightest degree.” The slightest degree means that a driver doesn't technically have to have a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit to be charged with DWI. The legal limit for drivers in Texas is .08 percent.

Contact a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney

Anyone facing criminal charges in Texas has the right to mount a vigorous defense. An experienced criminal defense attorney is a crucial advocate for anyone charged with a crime. These attorneys are very familiar with local criminal procedures and laws – some may have even first worked as prosecutors.

Most criminal defense lawyers should be able to handle any misdemeanor or low-level crime. But not all lawyers are qualified to handle serious charges. Some courts don't allow inexperienced attorneys to represent defendants facing capital punishment.

Contact a Texas criminal defense lawyer to help guide you through the justice system. It could mean the difference between going to jail and going free.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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