The handcuffs click and all of a sudden, you’ve begun the criminal process. Navigating Texas criminal procedures can be an overwhelming experience. There are many components to a criminal case including bail proceedings, pre-trial negotiations, preliminary motions and the rules of the trial if necessary.
It’s within your best interest to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A conviction could negatively affect your professional and personal life. If you’re sentenced to prison, you could have issues upon release gaining employment or housing. This not the time to be idle. If you have been charged with a criminal offense, it’s imperative you gain legal representation.
Attorney Discusses Criminal Procedures in Houston
Criminal legal proceedings are nowhere near as simple as an episode of a TV drama. The pre-trial proceedings can take as long and sometimes even longer than the trial itself. In fact, many cases are resolved without ever going to trial. It’s crucial you are educated about the Texas criminal process, so you are prepared for your pending case.
Contact the attorneys at Flood Lewis & Associates, Inc. for quality legal representation. We have years of experience practicing criminal defense. With our knowledge and resources, we can formulate a strong defense for your case. Call us now at (713) 224-5529 to schedule a free consultation.
Flood Lewis & Associates, Inc. accepts clients throughout the greater Harris County area including Houston, Pasadena, West University Place and Bellaire.
Overview of Texas Criminal Procedures
- Texas Arrest Procedures or Notice to Appear in Court
- First Appearance in Harris County Court
- Pre-trial Negotiations and Logistics in Texas
- Pre-trial Motions in Texas Courts
- Criminal Trial Procedures in Texas
- Texas Appellate Court
- Additional Resources
Arrest or Notice to Appear in Court in Texas
The criminal process either begins with an arrest or a notice to appear in court. You’re normally mailed a notice to appear in court, which will include the court date and recommendation to obtain legal representation. If you’re arrested, then you will be informed of your first appearance during your detainment. In some cases, you can be released on bond without attending your first appearance.
People who are arrested may have to wait until they are in front of a judge for bail. The judge will then review their case to look for certain factors. Some factors the judge may use to assess your bond include your financial status, the crime and if you’re a flight risk. If the judge grants you a bond, you will then have to pay a set amount to be released.
Bonds serve essentially as collateral for the court. By paying bond, you’re promising you’ll return for all your upcoming court dates. If you fail to show, then a bench warrant will be issued. You’ll have to face contempt of court case in conjunction with your original charges.
Texas Arraignment Process
Your first appearance in front of a judge is also referred to as an arraignment hearing. Arraignments are considered a pre-trial hearing, meaning they aren’t a part of trial. During an arraignment, you will be informed of your charges by a judge.
At your arraignment the judge should notify you of all the potential penalties of your charges. They will also inform you of your legal rights, including if you wish to hire legal counsel or not. The judge will give you a chance of obtaining legal representation, representing yourself or have the court appoint an attorney for you. If bond is applicable to your charges, then the judge will also formulate a bond for your release.
One of the most important aspects of an arraignment is entering a plea. You’ll be required to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere (no contest). You can change your not guilty plea to guilty at any time during the criminal process. However, if you plead guilty you cannot change your plea after it’s entered.
Texas Pre-trial Negotiations and Logistics
Contrary to popular belief, the bulk of an attorney’s work happens before trial. Before any schedules court dates, you and your attorney may be able to discuss pre-trial negotiations with the District Attorney. Usually, pre-trial negotiations surround plea deals which can be extremely beneficial to your case.
A plea-bargain is when you, your attorney and the prosecutor make an agreement regarding your plea. The prosecutor may offer a lighter penalty for you to plead guilty or nolo contendere. This means you may be able to avoid expensive fines, court costs, and even incarceration. Normally, the plea-deal will involve some sort of court-appointed program such as probation, a diversion program or a rehabilitation program.
Plea deals can be beneficial, but you’re not obligated to accept one. No one can force you to plead guilty or nolo contendere. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to evaluate the pros and cons of a plea-bargain. Some people refuse plea deals because they don’t want a conviction on their record.
Hiring an attorney is essential during pre-trial negotiations. They can thoroughly examine the plea agreement and even negotiate further. Your attorney may be able to negotiate with the District Attorney if the plea agreement isn’t desirable.
Preliminary Motions in Texas
Plea-bargains can be helpful, but they don’t apply to every case. If the prosecution doesn’t wish to negotiate, your attorney will have a chance to file pre-trial motions. A motion is a request to the court to make a certain decision about the case before trial. The majority of motions are served in advance and have some sort of legal argument to justify the decision.
Motions are extremely important in a criminal case. If the judge accepts the motion, then you could suppress certain evidence in your case. You could also have your case dismissed if the judge agrees with your motion. Listed below are some common pre-trial motions an experienced criminal defense attorney may present to the court:
- Motion to suppress evidence;
- Motion to exclude witness testimony;
- Motion to dismiss due to lack of evidence; and
- Motion to dismiss charges due to lack of probable cause.
Criminal Trials in Harris County, Texas
Texas courts offers bench and jury trials for criminal offenders. A bench trial has no jury. Instead the judge will interpret the law and decide the final outcome. Bench trials are much more common for people with minor misdemeanor charges such as a class C misdemeanor.
A jury trial also has a judge interpret the law, but the jury decides the verdict. A jury is composed of 12 people who have been chosen through a process called voir dire. This process screens a pool of potential jurors to see if they’re fit to decide a verdict without bias. Both the defense and prosecution will have a chance to object to certain jurors before they are impaneled. An objection to a juror is often referred to as a challenge to array.
The trial will begin with both the prosecution and defense presenting their opening statements. After this, the District Attorney will present their admissible evidence and witnesses. If witnesses are called, the District Attorney will question them on the facts of the case. It’s the prosecution’s job to prove you committed every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very high burden of proof in the world of law.
Once the prosecution has rested their case, it’s the defense’s turn. Your attorney will also be able to exhibit admissible evidence and witnesses to the jury. It’s the defense’s goal to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s case. Both the prosecution and the defense will have an opportunity to cross-examine each other’s witnesses. Each side will then end with a closing argument.
A verdict is only admissible if the jury makes a unanimous decision. If the jury is split, it’s referred to as a “hung jury.” The judge may call a mistrial if a hung jury occurs. If they call a mistrial, then you will have to repeat the criminal process again with a different jury.
Appeals in Texas Criminal Cases
The legal justice system, while efficient, isn’t always a perfect process. If you believe legal errors skewed your case, then you have options. You can choose to file an appeal with the court of appeals. The Texas court of appeals will assess your criminal trial to see if any procedures were mishandled.
It’s important to remember the court of appeals isn’t a retrial. The appellate court’s task is to determine if the law was interpreted and applied correctly in your trial. They will not rehear your case to see if you’re not guilty. There is also no jury in appellate court. Instead the decision will be made by three appellate judges.
Texas Criminal Procedures – Visit the official website for Texas Legislation to access the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures. You can use the code to familiarize yourself with court rules and the trial process. In addition, you can learn your rights as a defendant.
Fourteenth Court of Appeals– Visit the official website of the United States courts to learn more about Harris County’s Appellate Court. Gain access to self-help resources, learn about the court and learn the associated court fees.
Criminal Defense Attorney in Harris County, TX
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, then it’s important you seek legal representation. The criminal court system is confusing, and you don’t want to take any chances with your freedom. Contact Flood Lewis & Associates, Inc. to speak to an experienced attorney today.
Flood Lewis & Associates, Inc. is a group of veteran trial attorneys who are passionate about criminal defense. Our attorneys have had years of practice in both pre-trial and trial negotiations. Flood Lewis & Associates, Inc. can inform and advise you of what may happen next in your case. Call (713) 224-5529 today to schedule a case evaluation for your charges.
The attorneys at Flood Lewis & Associates, Inc. represent people throughout the Houston area including West University Place, Pasadena, and Bellaire.
This article was last updated on March 7th, 2019.