How do I, Megan Cook, know that you can only serve up to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault? Because the Texas Penal Code lists every crime that Texans can commit. And, under each listed crime is a statement regarding what classification the crime falls under (1st degree, 2nd degree, etc). The code lists the punishment for every classification of crime. Here is a snippet of the code for you to use as an example:
SUBCHAPTER B. ORDINARY MISDEMEANOR PUNISHMENTS
Sec. 12.21. CLASS A MISDEMEANOR. An individual adjudged guilty of a Class A misdemeanor shall be punished by:
(1) a fine not to exceed $4,000;
(2) confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year; or
(3) both such fine and confinement.
To help you better understand the maximum amount of time a person can serve in prison, I wrote this list of texas crimes and their associated maximum punishments .
You can see in the above picture, that the Texas penal code says what the maximum fine a person can pay is, and what the maximum jail time a person can face is. Every crime falls into a category listed, and thus the maximum punishment is easy to locate. So, the criminal defense attorney’s job for a guilty client is to assure that all of his rights are maintained. One of his rights are to get a punishment that does not exceed that of the listed maximum. In most cases, a criminal will not serve the maximum punishment, but rather will do jail time or prison time somewhere below the max.
This is where the exercise of plea bargaining comes in. It is the criminal defense lawyer’s job to see whether there is anything that he or she can tell the judge or the prosecutor that will convince them to offer a lower number of years in jail or prison. The attorney may appeal to things like the that the criminal has never committed a crime in the past, the criminal has a good job that he will lose, the criminal has a good excuse for the crime, such as a violent upbringing. The creative criminal defense lawyer will explore all of the possible angles of sympathy that can be offered, and will properly present them to the prosecutor or judge in order to lower the guilty criminal’s punishment. The defense lawyer may not have a way to get the criminal out of facing punishment entirely–and that is not his job when the criminal is guilty. We do not live in a country where guilty people face arbitrary sentences, and the loss of freedom without explanation. We live in a country where even the guiltiest of guilty get the privilege of a well legislated body of criminal law– No matter how awful his character, no matter how egregious the facts.
How long will you be in jail if you committed a crime? It depends. It depends on whether you hire a lawyer that cares enough about your case to hear anything in the case that can help lower your sentence. It depends on whether you have committed crimes in the past. It depends on whether you are a working member of society.