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Texas Criminal Procedure

The criminal process in Texas usually begins with a citation or an arrest. Sometimes, it begins with a search warrant. However it begins, one thing is universal: the Police are confronting a suspect and starting to take control of your life. You have many Constitutional Rights. However, most of them do not exist “on the street” during the police confrontation. These Rights must be asserted later, in Court, by an aggressive and experienced lawyer.

The Stop

A suspect may be stopped for questioning by police. A stop occurs when a police officer detains you to ask you questions, but has not yet arrested you or issued you a citation. A police officer should not stop you unless he has a reasonable belief that you have violated the law.

  1. Even though you are not under arrest at this point, you do not have to answer any questions that the police officer asks you.
  2. The police may also ask to search you or your vehicle. A police officer can not search a suspect or your car unless he or she has either probable cause or your consent.
  3. Do not give consent. The police officer may perform a search anyway. If you do not give consent, then your attorney can challenge the actions of the officer in court.

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The Arrest

Each jurisdiction has different rules regarding when an individual can be placed under arrest. In general, an officer can arrest a suspect if he has probable cause to believe that you committed a crime or if there is a warrant for your arrest. When you are arrested you will be taken into police custody, or, in some minor offenses, issued a citation and released.

  1. Police must inform you of your right to remain silent if you are in custody being questioned about the crime. This includes your right to remain silent and your right to obtain the advice of an attorney.
  2. When you are arrested you should be given an opportunity to contact a lawyer or anyone else to let them know what has happened to you. You are not limited to a single call.
  3. Once you are arrested there is a limited amount of time before you must either be charged with a crime or released. If you have been held for an unreasonable amount of time without being charged, your attorney can ask a judge to order you release.

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The Booking

After you are arrested and charge with a crime you will be booked; you will be fingerprinted; your name and the crime that you have been charged with will be entered into the official police record; your personal belongings will be taken from you for safe keeping while you are in custody; they will be inventoried and you will be asked to sign the inventory. Depending on the charge and the circumstances of your case, you may be released and ordered to appear for your hearings in court. You may be released on your own recognizance or you may have to bail out. In some cases, you will not be given the opportunity to bail out until you have seen a judge. It is crucial to have an attorney present at the hearing.

The police do not file the charges. They write the reports and deliver them to the prosecutor who decides whether to file charges. The District Attorney reviews the police reports and files the charge will they feel it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Filing the Complaint

The prosecuting attorney files the document with court, which alleges the charges against you. Sometimes (in misdemeanor cases) a letter will be sent to you advising you of the charges and when to appear in court. In most cases, however, an arrest warrant will be issued for you. It is extremely important to hire a lawyer right away.

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Arraignment/First Appearance

At the arraignment, you are formally advised of the charges and your constitutional rights. Bail is often set during the arraignment. Bail is used by the court almost like an “insurance policy” that you will appear on future court dates.

The amount of bail is determined by the judge. The judge will look to two factors in deciding bail: your risk of flight and whether you pose a danger to the community. Bail amounts can range from being released on your own recognizance, all the way up to millions of dollars. In some cases no bail is allowed. Sometimes, there can be “holds” placed on you (immigration, parole, probation) which prevent you from bailing out.

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Preliminary Hearing:
Preliminary Hearings are held in all felony offenses to review probable cause.

  • There is no jury at this hearing.
  • Only the judge hears the evidence to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the charges against you.
  • Once a judge determines that there is probable cause, she sends the case to the Superior Court for trial.
  • During the Preliminary Hearing, the district attorney or the judge can add additional charges and/or adjust the bail.
  • Your attorney will briefly question the witness who testify and should request a dismissal through an Argument.
  • An affirmative defense is rarely ever presented at the Preliminary Hearing.
  • The District Attorney does not have to present evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
  • Only a strong suspicion that you committed a crime must be shown.

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Arraignment in the Superior Court

If the judge has determined that there is probable cause to support the charges, the prosecutor will file a charging document called an Information in the Superior Court. The Information alleges the charges which you are facing at trial. At this time, you are formally advised of the charges and your constitutional rights. Again, you enter a plea of not guilty. The judge will give you a series of Court dates for you to return.

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Pre-Trial Conference

At the pre-trial conference, the defense attorney discusses the case with the prosecuting attorney and often includes the judge in this process. This is a good opportunity to speak with the prosecution in order to obtain the best possible deal, or plea-bargain. It also allows the defense attorney to provide information which may prove your innocence. Usually, these discussions occur in the judge’s chambers (“chamber conference”.)

It is the first opportunity to plead your case, your defense, or any mitigating circumstances. In most cases there are several Pre-Trial conferences prior to preparing for a Trial. Also, Pre-Trial motions are prepared, filed and argued by your attorney. These include motion to dismiss, suppress evidence, reveal confidential information, or reduce the charges against you.

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Trial

The Jury Trial is the most important part of your case. A trial requires labor intensive preparation. There must be investigation, research, witness preparation and organization. Often, the lawyer will perform this preparation without your knowledge or presence.

  • During the jury trial you are entitled to have a jury of twelve impartial jurors. Selecting a good jury can take hours or days.
  • Both the defense attorneys and the prosecuting attorney have an opportunity to make opening statements, introduce witnesses and evidence in favor of their case, cross-examine witnesses and offer closing arguments.
  • During the deliberation phase of the case, the jury decides whether the prosecution has met the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds you not guilty, you are free to go and not subject to further prosecution based on the same offenses.
  • Selecting a good jury can take hours or days. Both the defense attorneys and the prosecuting attorney have an opportunity to make opening statements, introduce witnesses and evidence in favor of their case, cross-examine witnesses and offer closing arguments.
  • During the deliberation phase of the case, the jury decides whether the prosecution has met the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds you not guilty, you are free to go and not subject to further prosecution based on the same offenses.

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Sentencing

If you are found guilty, the sentencing hearing is where the judge determines and imposes the appropriate punishment. Sentencing is a very important part of your case, and requires preparation. A good lawyer will make a presentation to the Judge, pleading for leniency and other consideration. Different crimes carry different possible penalties.

Collateral Consequences:
In addition to any sentence imposed by the court, conviction can have a number of additional consequences. In felony cases, these consequences can include, but are not limited to: loss of the right to vote, loss of the right to possess a firearm, loss of the right to associate with other known criminals, registration as a sexual offender, registration as a narcotics offender, or increased penalties for future convictions. Also, convictions can cause you to possibly lose your job.

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Appeals

If convicted, you may file an appeal to an appellate level court with the argument that the trial court made legal errors. If the defense can prove that the trial court made legal errors, or you were denied due process of law or a fair trial, it may result in the reversal of your conviction.

An appeal is a request to a higher (appellate) court for that court to review and change the decision of a lower court. Post-trial motions requesting a trial court judge to change his or her own decision or order new jury trials are so seldom successful. Therefore, the defendant who hopes to overturn a guilty verdict must usually appeal. The defendant may challenge the conviction itself or may appeal the trial court’s sentencing decision without actually challenging the underlying conviction.

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After Conviction

After a jury convicts you, there are several motions which can be made, some of which may only be used in certain cases.

  • Motion for Acquittal:

    A request that the judge decide that there is not enough evidence to convict the defendant. Depending on whether the trial is before a judge or jury and depending on court rules, this motion may be made either after the prosecution presents its evidence or after all the evidence is presented, but before it is “sent to the jury.”

  • Motion for a New Trial:

    Request that the trial judge declare a mistrial and grant a new trial. Grounds for a mistrial are limited in scope, and investigation must often be conducted prior to the motion.

  • Appeal to State Appellate Court:

    Contends that trial judge made some legal error, or some other reason to grant an appeal.

  • Petition for Rehearing to State Appeals Court:

    Requests that appeals court judges change their own decision.

  • State Supreme Court Appeal:

    Requests that highest court in the state review and overturn the decision of the mid-level appeals court.

  • U.S. Supreme Court Appeal:

    Requests that highest court in the nation intervene to correct an error on the part of the state or Federal District Courts that violated the U.S. Constitution.

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If you have been arrested for a serious crime, you need an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney. The accomplished criminal defense lawyers have the knowledge and skill to get your criminal charges reduced or dismissed.

In the State of Texas, all violations of the law are taken very seriously, and any person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime will be punished accordingly, including fines, community service, jail term, probation, and/or a prison term. The following is a list of crimes that have very serious repercussions in Texas:

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Child Abuse
  • Elder Abuse
  • Intimate Partner Abuse
  • Rape
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Spousal Abuse
  • Stalking
  • ThreateningBack to top

DRUG CRIMES

  • Cultivation of Narcotics
  • Distribution of Drugs
  • Distribution of Drugs on School Property
  • Distribution of Narcotics to Children and Minors
  • Driving While Intoxicated
  • Drug Conspiracy
  • Drug Paraphernalia
  • Drug Trafficking
  • Possession With Intent to Sell
  • Possession, including Cocaine, Heroin, Ecstasy, and LSD
  • Under the Influence of NarcoticsBack to top

SEX CRIMES

  • Aggravated Sexual Assault
  • Aggravated Sexual Battery
  • Criminal Sexual Contact
  • Date Rape
  • Forced or Unlawful Copulation
  • Indecent Exposure
  • Indecent exposure
  • Lewd Acts
  • Lewd Conduct
  • Pandering
  • Pimping
  • Prostitution
  • Rape
  • Sex Crimes upon a Dependant Adult
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Battery
  • Sexual Misconduct
  • Solicitation
  • Statutory Rape
  • Unlawful Penetration
  • Unlawful Possession of Pornography
  • Unlawful SodomyBack to top

WHITE COLLAR CRIMES

  • Bankruptcy Fraud
  • Computer Crime
  • Conspiracy
  • Counterfeiting
  • Credit Card Fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Extortion
  • Forgery
  • Fraud
  • Internet Fraud
  • Money Laundering
  • PerjuryBack to top

VIOLENT CRIMES

  • Arson
  • Burglary
  • Carjacking
  • Destructive Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Murder of a Judge
  • Murder of a Police Officer
  • Murder Related to a Religious Hate Crime
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Sexual AssaultBack to top

JUVENILE CRIMES

  • Drug Crimes
  • Felonies
  • Gang Involvement
  • Misdemeanors
  • Murder
  • Possession of a Firearm
  • Robbery
  • Sex CrimesBack to top

CHILD ABANDONMENT AND CHILD ENDANGERMENT

  • Alcohol-related Child Endangerment
  • Bodily Harm
  • Child Abuse and Maltreatment
  • Child Sexual Abuse
  • Child Sexual Assault
  • Death
  • Domestic Violence
  • Drug-related Child Endangerment
  • Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Neglect, including lack of food, clothing, medical care, and shelter
  • StalkingBack to top

STRIKE LAW CRIMES

  • Any Attempted Crime that is Punishable by a Life Sentence
  • Arson
  • Bank Robbery
  • Drug Trafficking
  • Kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Violent CrimesBack to top