Texas law provides for two kinds of probation, or as it is more correctly called under Texas law, "community supervision."
To understand how these two kinds of probation work, let's talk about a hypothetical case of theft of a bull dozer. The bull dozer is worth $25,000.00. In Texas, stealing property worth at least $20,000 but less than $100,000 is what we call a 3rd degree felony. And, the penalty range for a 3rd degree felony in Texas is from 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
So, let's say you are charged wth stealing this bull dozer. You get a good criminal defense lawyer to help you, but unfortunately the security cameras at the equipment yard have your picture. You can't beat the charge.
In Texas, it's really not very likely a first offender would go to prison for stealing a bull dozer - could happen, but not likely - so you are offered probation. The prosecutor in your case has a sense of humor, and leaves what type up to you, and makes you alternative offers. She offers you 5 years prison probated for 7 years and a fine of $1,000.00 not probated, or in the alternative, 7 years of deferred adjudication and the same fine.
But, what does this really mean?
The first kind of probation is what most criminal defense lawyers and judges call "regular probation". You get found guilty, meaning convicted, and start probation. The first number, the 5 years, is a prison sentence, but unless your probation gets revoked you don't have to serve it. The second number, the 7 years, is how long the 5 year sentence will be held over your head. Now about the fine, the prosecutor could have offered to ask the judge to supsend all or part of the fine, but that's not the deal you have been offered. The offer you have would mean paying the whole $1,000 fine.
The other option the prosecutor gave you was "deferred adjudication".With deferred adjudication, the judge would officially find that he or she had enough evidence to convict you. But, the judge would not convict you at that point. Instead, the judge would put you on probation, telling you that if you are successful on probation, the case would be dismissed, without you getting found guilty. However, if you end up violating the terms of probation, you could be arrested and brought back to court and after a hearing end up being found guilty, and either getting regular probation or prison. And, the prison time and fine you could get if you failed at deferred adjudication could be the maximum.
So, in this little hypothetical bull dozer case, if you took the 5 probated for 7 with a $1,000 fine deal, you could never get more than 5 years prison and a $1,000 fine as punishment if your probation was revoked. But, if you took the deferred adjudication probation for 7 years and got revoked, you could get the maximum punishment provided by law, 10 years and $10,000 fine, or the minimum, or anything in between.
Things work this way for most felonies in Texas and for most Texas misdemeanors where you can get county jail time. However, there are some very important exceptions. So, ALWAYS seek the advice of a good criminal defense lawyer.
Notice: This legal guide is for informational purposes and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For advice about your specific legal situation, seek the advice of a competent attorney.