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The Fines and Jail Time Penalties for White Collar Crimes in Texas

What you stand to lose, should you be convicted of one

According to the FBI, the phrase white collar crime broadly refers to any illegal activity that is “characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust and are not dependent on the application or threat of physical force or violence.” Most types of white collar crimes involve cheating someone out of their money or property.

Common White Collar Crimes

In Texas, the state penal code includes a wide variety of types of fraud crimes, ranging from:

  • check forgery;
  • deceptive business practices;
  • Insurance fraud, mortgage fraud and identity theft;
  •  Securities fraud, insider trading and credit card fraud.

The exact penalties or jail sentence often depend on how much the victim lost as a result of the defendant's actions. In other words: A person may only be charged a low-level misdemeanor with no jail time if they only cheated someone out of a few dollars, or they could end up facing life in prison if a large amount of money was involved.

How Texas Classifies Felonies and Misdemeanors

Before discussing specific white collar criminal charges, it is important to understand how the penal code actually classifies felonies and misdemeanors. There are seven basic categories of white collar crime charges that a person might face:

  • First-degree felonies are the most serious non-capital crimes. A conviction carries a maximum prison sentence of life (or 5 to 99 years) in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Second-degree felonies carry a sentence of between 5 and 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Third-degree felonies carry a sentence of between 2 and 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • State-jail felonies carry a sentence of between 180 days and 2 years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Class A misdemeanors are the most serious non-felony crimes. A conviction carries a maximum sentence of 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
  • Class B misdemeanors carry a sentence of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
  • Class C misdemeanors are the lowest level of criminal charge. A conviction only results in a fine of up to $500 and no jail time.

How Much Fraud Occurred?

As previously noted, when it comes to white collar crimes, the key to defining the level of offense is usually the value of the property involved. Let's take something simple like passing a forged check. Forgery falls under Section 32.21 of the Penal Code. The amount of the forged check defines the severity of the charge, and thus the maximum possible sentence faced by the defendant. For example:

  • Passing a bad check for less than $100 is a Class C misdemeanor, meaning no jail time.
  • Passing a bad check for $500 would be a Class B misdemeanor, so there could be up to 180 days of jail time.
  • Passing a bad check for $1,000 would be a Class A misdemeanor, which doubles the potential jail time to 1 year.

If we keep going, you will find that it is possible to face a first-degree felony charge—and the possibility of life in prison—should the amount of the forgery exceed $300,000.

“Because white collar cases are brought most often in federal court, the degree of the offense is of relatively little importance,” says F. Clinton Broden, a white collar criminal defense attorney at Broden & Mickelsen in Dallas.. “The federal sentencing guidelines, while now advisory, are still incredibly important in guiding sentences in federal court. It is very important that the criminal defense attorney that is representing a client charged with such offenses in federal court is well versed in the sentencing guidelines. With regard to state court, the degree of felony for most fraud cases is based upon the amount of the alleged fraud so that varies depending upon the case.”

Remember, in any criminal trial the burden of proof is on the prosecution to establish all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. So even if the government can prove that some act of forgery or fraud occurred, they also need to prove the exact dollar amount involved to sustain a particular level of charge. If they cannot, a qualified Texas white collar criminal defense attorney can easily tear apart the prosecution's case.

“There are many great criminal defense lawyers to choose from for a person charged with a DWI or violent crime,” says Broden. “On the other hand, there are a finite number of lawyers who regularly handle white collar offenses, especially if the charges are in federal court. White collar allegations are often document-intensive and require a lawyer that does not have a ‘volume practice.’ Therefore, it is important for a person charged with a white collar offense to retain an experienced white collar criminal awyer that has the time to devote to such a case and, if the case involves federal crimes or the federal government, to hire an attorney who regularly practices in federal court.”

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of white collar crime, criminal defense and federal crimes.

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