Understanding the Complexities of the Texas Penal Code

April 1, 2019

The main criminal code of the State of Texas, the Texas Penal Code was enacted originally in 1856 then revised in 1973. The revised Penal Code is based partly on the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code. Before 1856, the common law was used to govern Texas criminal law with only a few penal statutes serving as exceptions. The fifth legislature passed an act that required the Texas governor to codify criminal and civil laws of the state. Only the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Penal Code, both of which were written by James Willie, were passed by the sixth legislature and became effective on February 1, 1857. These are referred to as the Old Codes.

The Texas Penal Code underwent a meaningful reconciliation and reorganization of the existing laws with the adoption of the current Penal Code in 1974. The Texas Legislative Counsel said that the revised code’s main objectives were as follows:

  • To consolidate, simplify, and clarify the substantive law of crimes
  • Modernize a Penal Code that had been designed for the state when it was rural, not industrialized, and underpopulated more than 100 years ago
  • Identify as precisely as possible all criminal conduct that is significantly harmful
  • Rationally grade all offenses according to the harm that they threaten or cause and then apportion the sentencing authority between the judiciary and the corrections system
  • Code the penal law’s general principles
  • Collect all significant criminal laws into a single code while transferring the statutes regulatory and similar laws that employ a penal sanction into a more appropriate location.

How the Texas Penal Code is Organized

To make it easy to find details about specific crimes and punishments, the Penal Code is divided into chapters with titles. It gets underway with the introductory provisions, which declare everyone is presumed innocent until they are proven guilty without a reasonable doubt. Other sections include:

  • General Principles of Criminal Responsibility
  • Punishments
  • Inchoate Offenses
  • Offenses Against the Person
  • Offenses Against the Family
  • Offenses Against Property
  • Fraud
  • Computer Crimes
  • Telecommunications Crimes
  • Money Laundering
  • Insurance Fraud
  • Medicaid Fraud
  • Offenses Against Public Administration
  • Offenses Against Public Order and Decency
  • Offenses Against Public Health, Safety, and Morals
  • Organized Crime

Each section is specific and contains the current details for each topic as they apply to Texas law. This makes the punishment process more universal, and it also ensures that all defendants who are convicted of a specific crime will receive punishment within the same realm with little variation because the minimum and maximum punishments are specified for the court.

Purpose of the Texas Penal Code

The Texas Penal Code includes legal definitions, the classifications of the different crimes such as misdemeanors and felonies, and the punishment for each offense. After all, a penal code is the code of laws concerning the different offenses and crimes as well as their punishment as established by the law.

The Texas Penal Code lists offenses by punishment range. For example, there are penalties for repeat and habitual offenders. Here is a rundown of some of the different offenses:

All Felonies – If a person is going to trial for any felony with the exception of a state jail felony, and it is revealed at the trial that this individual has been convicted of two other felonies with the second prior felony conviction having been for an offense that happened subsequent to the first prior conviction having become final, the defendant shall be punished by imprisonment for life upon conviction, or for no less than 25 years and no more than 99 years.

First Degree Felony – If a person is on trial for a first-degree felony after having been previously convicted of a felony that wasn’t a state jail felony, the defendant shall be punished by imprisonment in the institution for life or no less than 15 years or no more than 99 years. In addition, the individual can be fined up to $10,000. If the person is older than 18 and on trial for a specific aggravated sexual assault offense and that defendant was convicted of certain violent sexual offenses, that individual shall be punished by being sentenced to life without parole if convicted of the second charge.

Class A Misdemeanor – If an individual is going to trial for a Class A offense and it has been proven that the individual was previously convicted of a Class A misdemeanor or any felony, if convicted, the individual will be punished by jail confinement of no less than 90 days but no more than 1 year and/or a fine of up to $4,000.

Class B Misdemeanor – If an individual goes on trial for a Class B offense after having been convicted of a Class B or a Class A misdemeanor or any degree of felony, upon conviction the individual will be punished by no less than 30 days but no more than 180 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $2,000 or both jail time and a fine.

Classifying Crimes

The different crimes are classified in the Penal Code as well. As an example, as it pertains to offenses against a person, it classifies capital murder as a capital felony. A first-degree felony could be murder, human trafficking, continuous human trafficking, aggravated kidnapping without voluntary release of the victim in a place that is safe, continuous smuggling of persons, continuous sexual abuse of a child, aggravated assault by or against a public servant in retaliation against an informant, witness, or individual reporting a crime.

The Court and the Penal Code

The Texas Penal Code is used by courts throughout the state to determine the punishment that will be given to a defendant who is convicted of a crime. The nature of the crime, the classification of the crime, and any prior convictions play a role in the outcome of the sentencing after a conviction.

It makes the punishment for specific crimes straightforward and establishes the same punishment for all perpetrators of the same crime with a similar criminal history. Criminal law attorneys who practice in Texas familiarize themselves with the law so they can better determine with their client’s case and work toward the least possible jail time and punishment in the event they are convicted.

If your life has been brought to a standstill due to criminal charges, then you need a dedicated team of experienced criminal defense attorneys like those at Fears Nachawati. We have successfully represented many cases in state and federal courts related to these most common criminal defense cases, and we maintain a formidable track record of dismissals, no bills, and acquittals, in part due to our in-depth understanding of the Texas Penal Code.

Our team will ensure that your best interests are represented, and we will stand by your side as you face this difficult situation.

Contact us today to schedule your free initial conversation by calling (866) 705-7584 or by visiting the offices of Fears Nachawati located throughout the great state of Texas, including in Houston, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and San Antonio. The sooner we can discuss your case, the sooner we will be able to get to work helping you.

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