What You Need to Know as a First Time Offender

Few things in life are more overwhelming and frightening than being charged with a crime. If you’re a first time offender, understandably, you may still be in shock about getting arrested, booked in jail, or just required to speak to the police.

One of the first things many people do after getting arrested is search online for answers about what this means for their life and what they should do next. If you’ve been charged with a crime in Texas, it’s in your best interest to speak to an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can.

An experienced, knowledgeable Texas criminal defense lawyer can explain your options and also help you make informed decisions about the next steps in your defense.

Criminal vs. Civil Law

It may sound obvious to some people, but not everyone is familiar with how the legal system works. If this is the first time you’ve ever encountered the police or the inside of a courtroom you may have dozens of questions about what happens next.

First, it’s important to understand that the American justice system is actually broken up into two separate systems: criminal and civil. On the civil side, the courts handle cases that involve non-criminal disputes that often are between non-governmental parties.

When a case goes to civil court, the non-victorious party can expect to pay money compensation to the other. This is something of an oversimplification, as there can be various other outcomes, but it’s often the case that one side in a civil matter asks for money damages from the other.

In a criminal case, however, the state or federal government prosecutes someone for committing a crime. In criminal cases, the person being charged faces a possible loss of their freedom if they’re sentenced to time in jail or prison.

It’s also possible for someone to face both a civil case and a criminal case for an event arising out of a single incident. For example, someone who kills another person could be charged with murder or manslaughter in criminal court, and then also be sued for wrongful death in a civil case. In the criminal case, the person could end up in prison if they’re convicted. On the civil side, they may be ordered to pay money damages to the victim’s family if they’re found liable for the victim’s death.  The degree of proof required in each type of case is vastly different as well.

Do You Need a Lawyer?

You have the right to represent yourself in court, whether your case is a civil case or a criminal one. However, few people have the legal knowledge required to successfully represent themselves in a criminal matter.

Not only is it important to work with a lawyer, but it’s also important to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Criminal law is quite different from civil law, and lawyers who work in criminal law typically focus specifically on criminal matters. These are the only types of cases they handle, which means they have the knowledge and experience you need if you’re facing criminal prosecution.

Will You Go to Jail?

Understandably, one of the first questions people have after being charged with a crime is whether they will do jail time. No one wants to spend time in jail or prison. Serving a jail sentence can mean suffering damage to your reputation, spending time away from your family, and possibly losing your job.

As a first time offender, it’s possible you won’t face any jail time. However, this depends on what kind of charge the prosecutor has filed against you.

Misdemeanor Charges vs. Felony Charges

For example, if you have been charged with a Class C misdemeanor, this means you’ve been charged with some kind of traffic offense or some other minor offense like public intoxication, possession of drug paraphernalia, or a minor assault. These types of offenses are only punishable by a fine, so there is no risk of jail time.

The next level of crimes under Texas law are Class B and Class A misdemeanors, with Class A misdemeanors involving more serious crimes. For these two levels of offenses, it’s possible you could be facing time in jail. However, an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer can usually make the case for a first-time offender to avoid jail time. This isn’t the case in every single situation, but it’s quite common for a first-offender to obtain a reduced sentence if they have a criminal defense lawyer who has experience successfully arguing for a more lenient sentence for the accused.

As most people know, a felony is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor. Under Texas law, felony crimes are classified as a state jail felony, third-degree felony, second-degree felony, or first-degree felony. It’s also possible for someone to be charged with a capital felony, which means the crime is punishable by execution.

Felony charges in Texas always include the possibility of a jail or prison sentence. This is why it’s important to consult a Texas criminal defense lawyer in Dallas if you’ve been charged with any type of felony in Texas state or federal court.

Dallas Criminal Defense Attorney John Helms

Phone: 214-666-8010