Sentencing in Texas
In many criminal cases in Texas that result in guilty pleas, sentences are frequently agreed upon by the prosecution and defense prior to the plea being entered. However, it is important to understand that the phase of a jury trial that determines an alleged offender’s guilt or innocence is entirely different from the phase in which a sentence is determined.
Even in cases involving sentences predetermined by plea bargains, a judge is not necessarily bound by the agreement between prosecutors and defense attorneys. The decision made at a sentencing hearing will have an enormous impact on the life of an alleged offender, and any person who is preparing one of the hearing absolutely needs to have skilled legal representation in order to give themselves the best chance of securing the most favorable outcome.
If you have been charged with any type of crime in Texas, you should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Matt Horak will aggressively pursue an outcome to your case that results in the fewest possible punishments, and he helps people with the following:
Horak Law represents clients in the greater Houston area, including communities in Montgomery County, Fort Bend County, Waller County, Liberty County, Harris County, Brazoria County, and Galveston County. You can call us at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 to receive a free review of your case during a no obligation legal consultation.
Overview of Sentencing in Harris County
- What happens before the sentencing hearing?
- How does the actual sentencing hearing work?
- What are the different kinds of sentences?
- How does an attorney help during these hearings?
- What are some resources to learn more about this process in the Houston area?
If the jury returns a guilty verdict, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 42.9(a) states that “the judge shall direct a [community] supervision officer to report to the judge in writing on the circumstances of the offense with which the defendant is charged, the amount of restitution necessary to adequately compensate a victim of the offense, the criminal and social history of the defendant, and any other information relating to the defendant or the offense requested by the judge.” This is referred to as a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSIR).
The PSIR does not need to contain a sentencing recommendation, but it needs to contain “a proposed client supervision plan describing programs and sanctions that the community supervision and corrections department would provide the defendant if the judge suspended the imposition of the sentence or granted deferred adjudication.”
A PSIR may not be required in a misdemeanor case if either:
- The alleged offender requests that a report not be made and the judge agrees to the request
- The judge determines there is sufficient information in the record to permit the meaningful exercise of sentencing discretion and the judge explains this finding on the record
A PSIR may not be required in a felony case under this section if either:
- The punishment is to be assessed by a jury
- The alleged offender is convicted of or enters a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to capital murder
- The only available punishment is imprisonment
- The judge is informed that a plea bargain agreement exists, under which the defendant agrees to a punishment of imprisonment, and the judge intends to follow the agreement
The Community Supervision and Corrections Department (CSCD) needs to have the PSIR prepared at least 48 hours prior to sentencing. In conducting its investigation, CSCD will obtain and review an alleged offender’s criminal records and interview the alleged offender and all relevant parties before preparing the report.
The actual sentencing hearing typically lasts about 20 to 30 minutes. This is clearly a very important stage in the criminal process because the outcome will have a dramatic impact on the alleged offender’s life.
At the sentencing hearing, an alleged offender will be allowed to:
- Present witnesses
- Submit letters of character
- Submit a briefing
- Present any other evidence that supports a lesser sentence
The alleged offender will also have the opportunity to address the court, usually to express remorse for any crime. It is critical for an alleged offender to raise any and all objections during the sentencing hearing, as failing to do so at this stage can prevent him or her from raising those objections on appeal.
There are several types of punishment that may be imposed at a sentencing hearing, including:
- Imprisonment — There are three types of locations for imprisonment in Texas. Alleged offenders convicted of a misdemeanor offense are typically sentenced to county jail. State jail felonies result in state jail sentences, and all other felonies of the third degree or higher can result in state prison sentences. Certain crimes have mandatory minimum terms for the length of imprisonment, but a judge will have the final decision how long an alleged offender should be incarcerated for.
- Probation — This typically involves a suspended sentence, meaning that an alleged offender needs to satisfy specific conditions of the probation in order to avoid being sentenced to imprisonment. These conditions often include not breaking the law, reporting to a probation officer, and submitting to drug testing, but may also involve GPS monitoring or house detention.
- Fines and Court Costs — A fine may be imposed instead of imprisonment for first-time offenders and low-level offenses, but they can also be imposed in addition to imprisonment.
- Restitution — A judge may order the alleged offender to directly pay the victim costs for property damage or personal injury, including medical expenses and rehabilitative therapy.
- Community Service — A judge can also order certain first-time offenders or people convicted of lower-level offenses to perform a certain number of hours of unpaid work for the community as a way to repay society.
Because the judge is given a certain level of discretion in determining the sentence for an alleged offender, it is in your best interest to have a capable criminal defense lawyer working on your behalf to ensure your rights are protected. An attorney can play an invaluable role in making sure that you are portrayed in the most favorable light while the PSIR is being compiled as well as at the actual sentencing hearing. Your legal representation can make sure all objections have been filed and are on the record.
It can also be very important to make sure that you are represented by a Houston criminal defense attorney if you have been convicted of more than one crime. For example, a person could be charged with robbery, assault, and unlawful possession of a firearm—all of which could result in three different sentences.
For an alleged offender who is convicted in two or more cases, the sentences may be cumulative or concurrent. A cumulative sentence (also referred to as a “consecutive sentence”) means that each sentence is served immediately after the previous one ends. A concurrent sentence means that all sentences are served at the same time. For example, if a person is convicted of crimes which involve sentences of five, three, and two years, he or she may be able to serve all three sentences concurrently by being imprisoned for five years.
Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 42.08, the decision whether the alleged offender will receive a cumulative or concurrent sentence is at the discretion of the court. This section of Texas law does note a few exceptions:
- The cumulative total of suspended sentences in felony cases cannot exceed 10 years
- The cumulative total of suspended sentences in misdemeanor cases cannot exceed the maximum period of confinement in jail applicable to the misdemeanor offenses
- Cumulative sentences are mandatory for alleged offenders convicted of offenses committed while they were inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and had not completed sentences they were serving for offenses other than state jail felonies
- Cumulative sentences are prohibited if an alleged offender has been convicted in two or more cases and the court suspends the imposition of the sentence in one of the cases
Having effective legal representation will tremendously help reduce the possibility of a lengthy sentence of imprisonment.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice — At this website, you can perform a search of criminal offenders and also find information relating to state facilities, policies, and publications. There is also data sets, visitor information, and news about the agency.
861-B Interstate 45 North
Huntsville, TX 77320
Harris County Community Supervision & Corrections Department — Various forms and information about locations can be found on this website. There are also answers to many frequently asked questions (FAQs).
49 San Jacinto Street
Houston, TX 77002
Montgomery County Department of Community Supervision and Corrections— You can find various documents and forms on this website, as well as information about facilities, payment instructions, and the standard operating procedures of sanctioning courts.
2245 North First Street
Conroe, TX 77301
Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Houston
As soon as you have been charged with a criminal offense, you are probably going to have some concern about the type of punishment you could possibly face. Matt Horak is a criminal defense attorney in Houston who works tirelessly to achieve the best outcome to your case, and he knows how to portray alleged offenders in the most favorable light if they have to attend a sentencing hearing.
Horak Law represents clients all over Houston as well as surrounding areas like Richmond-Rosenberg, Pearland, The Woodlands, Pasadena, Missouri City, Spring, Sugar Land, Conroe, Galveston, and League City. We will review your case when you call our firm at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.