Texas Criminal Procedures
So you’ve been arrested and now face criminal charges in Texas. That can be an extremely nerve-wracking experience, and for good reason. The potential consequences of getting arrested for DWI, drug possession, or any other criminal violation are serious, threatening your reputation, financial well-being and possibly even your freedom.
But you are taking the right step by seeking information about court cases and looking for a Texas criminal defense attorney. Our attorneys will help you defend your rights to fair treatment in Texas courts, on any misdemeanor or felony criminal charge.
We’re here to protect your legal rights and defend you against the state’s criminal charges, and we’ll help you understand the process as you navigate the complex Texas criminal justice system.
What to Expect When You’re Facing a Criminal Charge in Texas
Let’s talk about what you can expect from the system and your criminal defense attorney after getting arrested on criminal charges.
You’ve probably already had your first court appearance, within 48 hours of your arrest, where the judge set bail on your Texas criminal charges. By now, the police have turned over the results of their investigation to the district attorney’s office, and the prosecutor has reviewed the case.
On a misdemeanor charge, the prosecutor will file an information, the official charging document describing the crime the state alleges you committed. For felony charges, Article I, Section 10 of the Texas Constitution requires prosecutors to go to the grand jury to seek an indictment before officially filing criminal charges.
We may try to end the case right there by presenting a written argument against the criminal charges to the grand jury. In some extreme cases, we might even ask that you be allowed to testify in front of the grand jury. However, it is unlikely to avoid an indictment when the case goes to a grand jury.
Mounting a Criminal Defense
Once the information has been filed, you will have an arraignment on your Texas criminal charges. This may happen in county court for misdemeanors or district court for felonies. At the arraignment, the judge will inform you of the charges and ask for a plea of guilty or not guilty. Because you have a criminal defense attorney, you likely won’t have to say much at the arraignment. You will nearly always plead not guilty at the arraignment, even if we eventually expect to plead guilty, we need time to work out a fair deal.
After that, there will be a series of pre-trial conferences and hearings. At a pretrial, we’ll make a demand for discovery from the prosecutors. Criminal law does not allow for unfair surprise at trial in Texas, so the prosecutor must share with your defense attorney whatever evidence he has supporting the criminal charges against you.
The prosecutor must allow us to copy police reports, statements, such as those you may have made, and certain records of physical evidence. For example, if you are charged with DWI, we will get copies of the breath-test results. We also will get a list of any witnesses the state intends to call at trial. When we understand all the evidence they intend to present in court, we can start to negotiate a deal, or decide to fight the case at trial.
During this stage of the case, there are three things you must remember because they are crucial to a successful criminal defense.
- Be honest with your criminal defense lawyers. We are bound by law and ethical code to keep anything you tell us confidential, so be straightforward, no matter how embarrassing, because the more information you give us, the better we can do our jobs. We may ask you to write down everything that happened, including the names of any witnesses, anything you may have said to the police and any relevant personal details.
- Don’t repeat the mistake that got you arrested. Whatever you do, avoid any situation where you could get arrested on the same criminal charge. A second arrest for the same or similar offense could make it very difficult to argue your innocence in either case, and, if you are out on bail, the judge has the authority to deny you bail for a second arrest.
- Stay away from any witnesses or investigators. Do not have any contact with anyone involved in your criminal case, even if you think it was all a misunderstanding and only want to explain things. Anything you say or do might be construed as a confession or as tampering with witnesses and could lead to more criminal charges.
Meanwhile, as your defense lawyers, we will be working on your case by evaluating the evidence, conducting our own investigation and taking depositions from witnesses. We’ll be looking for weaknesses in the state’s criminal charges, such as inconsistent statements from police and witnesses, or unreliable physical evidence. For example, in a DWI case, we might question an officer’s training in conducting field sobriety or breath tests.
We probably will file motions to have certain evidence of the criminal charges excluded, if we can prove it to be unreliable or illegally obtained, to further weaken the state’s case.
Will your Criminal Charges go to Trial?
According to the Texas Office of Court Administration, less than 2 percent of felony criminal charges go to trial, and less than 1 percent of misdemeanor criminal charges go to trial, on average. About 13 percent of felony cases are dismissed, and about 33 percent of misdemeanor charges are dismissed.
This means you have a good chance of avoiding trial on your criminal charges. As part of your criminal defense, we will try to persuade the prosecutor to drop the charges or file a motion to have the charges dismissed by the judge. Or, if we think the prosecutor has a strong case, we may seek a plea deal on your behalf.
By making a deal, you may be able to plead to less serious criminal charges and receive a less severe penalty. For example, if you are charged with DWI, we may be able to plead to reckless driving, instead. As your criminal defense lawyers, we will make recommendations, but the final decision will be yours.
However, it may be best to go to trial to seek an acquittal on your criminal charges.
If that happens, we can request either a bench trial, where a judge decides the evidence in your court case, or a jury trial, in which the case is decided by a panel selected by your criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor. In Texas, bench trials are more likely to end in acquittal.
In a criminal trial, both the state and your criminal defense attorney will have an opportunity to make an opening argument, put on witnesses, cross-examine witnesses and make a closing argument. We may choose to have you testify, but the jury is not allowed to hold it against you if you don’t.
The burden of proof will be on the prosecutor to prove the criminal charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. All of the jurors must agree on a verdict, or the case ends in a mistrial. If the jurors believe there is at least some reason to think you may not have committed the crime, they must acquit.
The jury may vote to convict you of the criminal charges, but your case doesn’t end there. You will have the right to appeal the decision, and we can help you every step of the way as your criminal defense attorneys.