Felony Criminal Enhancements in Texas

Texas law allows for harsher punishments for repeat and habitual offenders. This means that when you have been previously convicted of certain crimes, the State can enhance, or increase your range of punishment on your current charge.

The range of punishment refers to the amount of time and/or fine that a person can receive as punishment, if convicted of a crime. The range starts with the minimum penalty and goes all the way up to the maximum penalty.

Enhancements affect the range of punishment by increasing the minimum range of punishment to a higher classification of crime. Commonly, enhancements can occur simply based on the fact that a person has been previously convicted of certain crimes. The short answer to the question is, yes, the law in Texas mandates that a repeat or habitual offender face a higher range of punishment than they ordinarily would, had there been no prior conviction(s).

To understand how enhancements work, it is important to understand what the ordinary ranges of punishment are for felony offenses. The key to this is first determining what degree of felony you are being charged with.

All felony offenses are broken down into different degrees. Chapter 12 of the Texas Penal Code identifies punishments for all classifications of offenses. For a complete list of punishments, please refer to Chapter 12 of the Texas Penal Code.

For example, we will be looking at a few pieces of different felony punishments, and the potential jail time and fines you could face if you are charged with a felony. The degrees of felonies, along with their general ranges of punishment, are in order from least to greatest, and are as follows:

State Jail Felony Punishment (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 12.35)

  • Confinement in a state jail for any term of not more than two years or less than 180 days.
  • In addition to confinement, a fine not to exceed $10,000 may be assessed.

Third Degree Felony Punishment (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 12.34)

  • Imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for any term of not more than 10 years or less than 2 years.
  • In addition to imprisonment, a fine not to exceed $10,000 may be assessed.

Second Degree Felony Punishment (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 12.33)

  • Imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for any term of not more than 20 years or less than 2 years.
  • In addition to imprisonment, a fine not to exceed $10,000 may be assessed.

First Degree Felony Punishment (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 12.32)

  • Imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for life or for any term of not more than 99 years or less than 5 years.
  • In addition to imprisonment, a fine not to exceed $10,000 may be assessed.

Now that you know what the ordinary punishments are supposed to be, the question becomes, how will I know if my charges have been enhanced?

First, you should look to the indictment, or formal charging document, to see if there is an enhancement paragraph within that document. The enhancement paragraph is often included near the bottom of an indictment.

The paragraph is located below the allegations and will include the reason, or past crime the State is using to enhance the charge. If the reason your charge is being enhanced is a prior conviction, the State must have proof of your past conviction. This is typically done by using a past judgment of conviction. The judgment should state what crime you were found guilty of, where you were convicted, and will most often contain your fingerprint.

Remember, just because the Government or prosecutor is alleging an enhancement (prior conviction) it does not mean that they can prove it or that you have to plead guilty to that enhanced charge. You need to work with your attorney to find out your best options.

Though it should be noted that there are exceptions to the general rules, let’s walk through some enhancement scenarios below.

Examples of Enhancements
State Jail Felony → Third Degree Felony

If it is shown on the trial of a state jail felony punishable under Section 12.35(a) that the defendant has previously been finally convicted of two state jail felonies under Section 12.35(a), on conviction the defendant shall be punished for a felony of the third degree. (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 12.425(a)).

Alternative:

If you are charged with a state jail felony, and you have previously been convicted of two state jail felonies, if convicted, you can be punished as if the state jail felony were a third degree felony.

Third Degree Felony → Second Degree Felony

If it is shown on the trial of a felony of the third degree that the defendant has previously been finally convicted of a felony other than a state jail felony punishable under Section 12.35(a), on conviction the defendant shall be punished for a felony of the second degree. (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 12.42(a)).

Alternative:

If you are charged with a third degree felony, and you have previously been convicted of a felony (not including state jail felonies under section 12.35(a)), if convicted, you can be punished as if the third degree felony were a second degree felony.

Second Degree Felony → First Degree Felony

If it is shown on the trial of a felony of the second degree that the defendant has previously been finally convicted of a felony other than a state jail felony, on conviction the defendant shall be punished for a felony of the first degree. (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 12.42(b)).

Alternative:

If you are charged with a second degree felony, and you have previously been convicted of a felony (not including state jail felonies under section 12.35(a)), if convicted, you can be punished as if the second degree felony were a first degree felony.

First Degree Felony

If it is shown on the trial of a felony of the first degree that the defendant has previously been finally convicted of a felony other than a state jail felony, on conviction the defendant shall be punished by imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for life, or for any term of not more than 99 years or less than 15 years. In addition to imprisonment, an individual may be punished by a fine not to exceed $10,000. (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 12.42(c)(1)).

Alternative

If you are charged with a first degree felony, and you have previously been convicted of a felony (not including state jail felonies under section 12.35(a)), if convicted, you will be punished by imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for life, or for any term from 15-99 years. In addition to imprisonment, a fine of $10,00 may be assessed.

Ultimately, when you make certain mistakes, those mistakes can come back to haunt you in the form of an enhancement. Do not leave your future to chance. At Goza & Carreras, we are aggressive trial attorneys and will fight for you! 817-369-3838