As indicated in this chapter's feature Crime and Punishment in Texas, criminal justice in Texas is based on a system of graded penalties that specifies different degrees of punishment depending on the severity of the alleged crime.
The primary distinction in crime severity, of course, is between misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor is a relatively minor, non-violent crime that involves property of only limited value, minor drug possession, or other prohibited acts that do not involve bodily injury. These cases are generally heard by the local trial courts of limited jurisdiction (Justice of the Peace courts, the various county courts, and Municipal courts).
Felonies are crimes that are deemed to pose a much more serious threat to society. Theft or burglary involving property of substantial value, assault, and distribution of controlled substances are all felonies. The state District courts have exclusive original jurisdiction in these cases.
Both misdemeanors and felonies, in turn, are graded according to severity. Misdemeanors are graded in classes (class A, B, and C), while felonies are graded in degrees (first-degree through third-degree, with first being the worst).
Felony grades also include capital felony and state jail felony. Capital felonies are crimes involving murder punishable upon conviction by death. The creation of state jail felonies - so-called fourth-degree felonies that are serious, but less so than other felonies - reflects the continuing evolution of societal problems and changing social mores.
Repeat offenders may be punished more harshly than first-time offenders with enhanced punishment. These punishments involve assigning the penalty for the next higher degree of felony to a repeat offender. Enhancement may apply in the case of a second conviction for a second-degree or third-degree felony, or a third conviction for a state jail felony.