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Felonies vs Misdemeanors and How to Reduce Them


In Texas, the list of possible offenses can for the most part be split into two distinct categories; misdemeanor crimes and felony crimes. Misdemeanors are typically less severe in nature and impose only minor punishments. Some common misdemeanors include disorderly conduct, petty theft, or any small drug crimes. Felonies on the other hand involve much larger and more serious crimes that carry heavier and longer sentences. Murder, aggravated assault, and trafficking offenses, for instance, are all characterized as felonies.

Not only do felony convictions warrant harsher punishments, but they have much more severe consequences beyond the jail walls. With a felony conviction on your record, you are likely to have a harder time reintegrating into society and finding job opportunities.

In many cases however, these issues can be avoided. With proper cause, you may be able to reduce your felony conviction to a misdemeanor conviction. Doing so will ensure a shorter sentence and help you escape the unfortunate fate that most felons face once they are released from prison.

How can I reduce a felony conviction in Texas?

Not all Texas felonies are eligible for reduction. For more severe and violent offenses, like murder or arson, such legal action simply is not an option.

Under Texas Penal Code 12.44, however, state jail felonies (least severe type of felony in Texas) have the ability to be reclassified as Class A misdemeanors and sentenced accordingly.

State jail felony sentences range anywhere from 180 days to 2 years in a state jail facility. Some state felony crimes include but are not limited to, credit card abuse, burglary of a building, DWI with a child passenger, or criminally negligent homicide.

Unlike other felony classifications, state jail felony sentences must be served in full and do not offer parole. Because state jail felonies feature such strict punishment guidelines, sentence reductions under Texas Penal Code 12.44 have become a common form of post conviction relief for defendants across the state.

What does Texas Penal Code 12.44 entail?

Texas Penal Code 12.44 is divided into section A and section B.

Under Texas Penal Code 12.44 A, the judge is the one who decides whether the offense is to be tried as a felony or misdemeanor. In this case, the classification of the crime is decided completely by the judge and does not require the prosecutor’s consent or approval.

However it is important to note that if the felony reduction is made in compliance with 12.44 A, the defendant will receive a sentence reduction, but will still have a felony conviction on their record.  As a result, their conviction may not be expunged and the defendant’s rights to serve on a jury and carry a firearm are revoked. Additionally, they will remain ineligible for probation.

Unlike 12.44 A, a charge reduction under Texas Penal Code 12.44 B is made at the request of the prosecutor. In this case, the conviction does not stay a felony conviction, but instead goes on record as a misdemeanor. A conviction reduction under 12.44 B ensures greater freedom for the defendant, but is a much rarer occurrence.

How does one decide if a felony reduction is applicable?

When deciding whether to grant a felony reduction, an array of factors must be considered. Under Texas law, judges and prosecutors must review “the gravity and circumstances of the felony committed and the history, character, and rehabilitative needs of the defendant” and decide what “such punishment would best serve the ends of justice.”

Mitigating and aggravating circumstances are often deciding factors in this decision making process.

Mitigating circumstances are factors surrounding a case that diminish the culpability of a defendant and urge the judge to be less harsh in their sentencing. Some common examples of mitigating circumstances include:

  • The defendant having no record of criminal behavior
  • The defendant having only a minor role in the commission of the crime
  • The defendants acknowledgment of their wrongdoing
  • The defendant attempting to make restitution to the victim of the crime
  • The defendant acting out of pure necessity
  • The defendant having a history of mental illness or a drug addiction

In contrast, aggravating circumstances enhance the guilt of the defendant and trigger harsher punishments. For instance, a lack of remorse from the defendant, or a long history of prior offenses may sway the judge or prosecutor toward charging the offense as a felony and imposing a stricter sentence.