A former police officer, county Sheriff, and corrections officer asked Simple Justice a simple question: “When does a felon become an ex-felon? Is even a low grade nonviolent felony conviction a life sentence? And, if it is, should it be?” To which he replied, in part:

Mr. Woodward is old enough to remember when we used to say that a person who completed his sentence had "paid his debt to society."  How quaint that sounds today, like some line by Atticus Finch to Scout.  When is the last time (other than here) that you heard someone use this archaic phrase? 

Actually, Scott, I hear it all the time, at least, if you allow me to tweak the question.  I hear all about “I’ve paid my debt to society” or something similar, when I start explaining Texas’ enhancement provisions to clients. They want to know about the “constitutionality” of holding past criminal convictions against them, you know… the ones for which they have already “done their time”.

Typically, at least in Texas, enhanced misdemeanor offenses fall into one of a few general categories:

  • DWI: Class B Misdemeanor, Class A Misdemeanor, then 3rd Degree Felony
  • Assault Family Violence: Class A Misdemeanor, 3rd Degree Felony
  • Theft: Any Class of felony or misdemeanor based on the combined value of the items alleged stolen, until finally the 3rd theft becomes a State Jail Felony. 

For some reason, folks don’t seem to get enhanced on Theft charges until they’ve hit their 10th or more; but DWIs and Assaults are almost always enhanced, at least in Travis County. Seems like most clients are either of the first time variety, or the “Wow, you’ve really got a rap sheet” variety. I know that can’t be actually true (how did anyone ever get those convictions numbers two through nine?) but I don’t remember the last time I had a third or fourth “only” type theft client.

Of course, Texas also has Felony enhancement provisions too. Probably better left for another post, but suffice it to say, those DWIs and Assault charges can be raised to higher charges still, if the defendant has prior pen trips.

So, yeah, I hear about that quaint concept of “not holding my priors against me”. But as for everyone else, it’s a forgotten concept.