Enhancements are a way for the Texas criminal justice system to make a bad situation worse. In Houston criminal cases in which a defendant is convicted, the possible sentence is based on the offense charged and the past criminal history of the defendant. There are three ways that punishment can be enhanced: general enhancement of felonies, general enhancement of misdemeanors, and specific enhancement.
If you think you’re subject to an enhancement, and would like to speak with a Houston criminal-defense lawyer that can help or give you the best advice to move forward, call Bennett & Bennett at 713-224-1747.
General Enhancement of Felonies
A 2nd Degree or 3rd Degree Felony can be bumped up one category (to a 1st Degree or 2nd Degree Felony, respectively) and a 1st Degree Felony can be bumped up to a 15-to-life offense, if the defendant has a prior “pen trip” — that is, a final felony conviction that resulted in a prison sentence.
State Jail Felony Enhancements
There are separate rules for State Jail Felony offenses. A State Jail Felony can be bumped up one category (to a 3rd Degree Felony) if the defendant has two prior State Jail convictions.
- A State Jail Felony can be bumped up two categories (to a second-degree felony) if the defendant has two prior consecutive pen trips — that is, if the second pen trip was for an offense committed after the first conviction became final.
- A State Jail Felony involving a deadly weapon can be bumped up two categories (to a second-degree felony) if the defendant has one prior pen trip.
- A State Jail Felony involving a deadly weapon, or a 3rd, 2nd, or 1st Degree Felony can be enhanced to a 25-to-life offense if the defendant has two prior consecutive pen trips.
This is all aside from draconian enhancements for sex-crime punishments, which can be enhanced to automatic life, life without parole, or even the death penalty (though that probably does not pass constitutional scrutiny) if the defendant has one prior sex-offense conviction.
General Enhancement of Misdemeanors
- A Class A Misdemeanor can be enhanced to a 90-day minimum (so a 90-day to one-year punishment range) if the defendant has been convicted before of a Class A misdemeanor or a felony.
- A Class B Misdemeanor can be enhanced to a 30-day minimum (so a 30- to 180-day punishment range) if the defendant has been convicted before of a Class A Misdemeanor, Class B Misdemeanor, or felony.
- A Class C Misdemeanor (fine-only) disorderly conduct or public intoxication can be enhanced effectively to a Class B Misdemeanor (up to 180 days in jail) if the defendant has three convictions for either of those offenses (or a combination of them) in the 24 months before he committed the current offense.
There is no general provision for enhancing a misdemeanor to a felony.
Specific Enhancement Provisions
Some offenses carry specific enhancements where the defendant has been convicted more than once of the same offense, and these can enhance a misdemeanor to a felony.
For example, theft of less than $2,500 is a misdemeanor, except that it becomes a State Jail Felony if the defendant has been previously convicted two or more times of theft. Prostitution is a Class B misdemeanor, except that it becomes a State Jail Felony if the defendant has been previously convicted three or more times of prostitution. And family-violence assault causing bodily injury is a Class A misdemeanor, except that it becomes a third-degree felony if the defendant has been previously convicted of a family-violence assault. There are others as well.
Potential enhancements must be considered both prospectively and retrospectively — that is, the defendant and the criminal-defense lawyer must look at both how past cases affect this case, and (even though nobody plans to get in trouble again) how this case might affect future cases.
To be sure that you’re getting the best advice on how your past will affect your case and your case will affect your future, call on the decades of experience and training of Bennett & Bennett.