Facing a Criminal Charge? The Answers to this FAQ May Help

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Brett Pritchard Law

Updated on November 4, 2023

If you are facing a criminal charge – regardless of the kind of charge – it has the potential to rock your world in ways you likely do not even realize. As such, it’s critical to give your case the legal attention it deserves.

You probably have many questions associated with your criminal charges, so reviewing the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions can help make the path forward less arduous.

However, turning to an experienced criminal attorney for professional legal guidance is one of the surest ways to help protect your rights now and throughout the legal process.

Questions about the Legal Process

What are the steps in the process?

If you have been charged with a crime in Texas, it helps to know the steps involved in the path forward.

Booking

Your booking is an administrative aspect of the process, and it is here that all the following events will happen:

  • Your photo will be taken

  • You will be fingerprinted

  • The crime you are charged with will be recorded

  • Your name, address, and telephone number will be recorded

Arraignment

At your arraignment, you will appear in court and the judge will inform you of the charge against you. It is at your arraignment that you will be asked how you plead. You and your dedicated criminal defense attorney will determine the best option for you, but at this juncture, it is typical to enter a plea of not guilty.

Bail

If you are in jail, the judge will likely set your bail – either during your arraignment or soon after. Bail is an amount of money designed to encourage defendants to show up for all required court appearances. Upon completion of all requirements, you will get your bail back. However, if you miss an appearance, you forfeit your bail, and the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest.

Bail is determined in accordance with the seriousness of the charge. If the prosecution persuades the court that you are a flight risk, it can increase the amount of bail you will need to pay to get out of jail. If your defense attorney is able to convince the court that your family and career make you an unlikely candidate for skipping bail, it can have the opposite effect.

Preliminary Hearing

Preliminary hearings represent the step in the process during which the judge determines whether or not there is enough evidence to demonstrate that a crime occurred and that you likely committed it. If so, you will be held for trial, and if not, the matter will be resolved.

Trial

Many criminal charges are resolved out of court via plea deals and other legal avenues, but if your case does go to trial, you can expect all the following:

  • Both sides will call, question, and cross-examine witnesses

  • Evidence will be presented

  • Both sides will make closing statements

  • The judge will provide the jury with instructions

  • After deliberating on the matter, the jury will announce its verdict

  • The defense may make a post-trial motion, such as a motion for a new trial

Questions about Attorneys

Do I always have the right to an attorney?

If you are charged with a crime, the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to counsel from the outset. The State of Texas concurs and mandates that every defendant who is facing a criminal matter has the right to representation by counsel (in an adversarial judicial proceeding, such as a trial).

This means that you do not have the absolute right to a criminal attorney before being officially charged with a crime – regardless of whether you are in police custody.

For example, if the police are questioning you about a crime that they believe you were involved in but that they have not charged you with, you do not have the right to demand an attorney, but you do – and this is a big one – have the right to remain silent, and you should make it your business to exercise this right.

When it comes to being questioned by the police, it is in your best interest not to become chatty – there is no reason to do the officer’s job for him or her.

It’s only a misdemeanor charge. Is an attorney really necessary?

While the misdemeanor classification may strike you as far less serious than a felony, there is nothing minor about the fines and penalties you’ll face if you’re convicted. If you’ve been slapped with a misdemeanor charge, the best path forward is with the skilled legal guidance of a trusted criminal defense attorney on your side.

Consider the following penalty classes for misdemeanors:

  • Common Class C misdemeanor charges include disorderly conduct, simple assault, and petty theft. A conviction doesn’t carry jail time, but there is a $500 fine, and your record will be tarnished.

  • Common Class B misdemeanor charges include theft of property that values from $100 to $750, a first DWI charge, and possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana. A conviction carries up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $2,000.

  • Common Class A misdemeanor charges include theft of property that values from $750 to $2,500 and DWI with a BAC of over .15 percent. A conviction carries up to a year in jail and fines of up to $4,000.

The legal consequences of a misdemeanor conviction – in addition to the social consequences you’ll face – are serious, which means that an attorney really is necessary.

Do I need an attorney?

Many people facing criminal convictions wonder, “Do I need a criminal defense attorney?” The short answer to this question is yes. If you have been charged with a crime in Texas – or have concerns that you are about to be charged with a crime – you owe it to yourself and your future to work closely with a dedicated criminal defense attorney.

The truth is that a conviction for even a relatively minor crime can lead to jail time, fines, and social consequences that can be difficult to rise above. Even a conviction for a misdemeanor can have negative consequences in your life that you may not have considered, including:

  • A decline in your social standing

  • The inability to obtain a federal student loan

  • Difficulty renting a home or obtaining a home loan

  • Difficulty finding a new job

  • Challenges related to professional licensure

Here are several reasons why it’s essential to have a criminal defense attorney:

  • Criminal law is exceptionally complicated, and attempting to defend yourself will not do you any favors.

  • The stress of facing a criminal charge can be exceptionally difficult to cope with alone.

  • Having a dedicated criminal attorney in your corner can help you better understand how your case is likely to be resolved, the strengths and challenges of your case, and your best options moving forward.

  • Your attorney will gather all the evidence in your case, including everything that the prosecution has against you.

  • Your experienced criminal attorney will skillfully advocate for your rights while building your strongest defense.

  • Your attorney will help ensure that you avoid common legal mistakes and will help protect your case’s best outcome from the start.

  • Your attorney will use his or her extensive knowledge of the law, the court in question, and the prosecution to your advantage in strategizing your case’s best possible resolution.

Criminal cases are complicated, and the consequences of not having a focused criminal defense attorney on your side can be dire. If you are facing a criminal charge, having an accomplished criminal defense attorney on your side can prove invaluable.

Am I required to have a criminal defense attorney?

When facing criminal charges, you have a right to an attorney, even if you can’t afford to pay for one. However, you are not legally required to hire a criminal defense attorney if you don’t want to.

Ultimately, working closely with an experienced criminal defense attorney is the best way to help ensure that you skillfully navigate the rocky path toward the best possible resolution for your case.

What is my criminal defense attorney’s role?

Your criminal defense attorney will take on many critical roles throughout your case. He or she will take all of the following actions:

  • Help you understand the charges brought against you

  • Go after any exculpatory evidence (evidence that bolsters your defense)

  • Strategize your strongest defense

  • Determine the likelihood of a plea deal and the best course of action related to any offers made by the prosecution

  • Prepare your case for trial and prepare you for pretrial, trial, and sentencing (as applicable)

  • Continue to build your case as you go (in response to whatever evidence arises and legal determinations are made)

  • Gather all available evidence

  • Build your strongest defense from the ground up

  • Skillfully advocate for your case’s best possible resolution throughout the process

  • Communicate clearly with the prosecution in an effort to obtain any advantages available to you, such as a plea deal, charge reduction, or reduced sentence – as applicable

  • Help you make the best decisions for you and your case moving forward

If you are facing a criminal charge, it is in your best interest to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney early in the process and to work closely with him or her throughout.

When is the right time to hire an attorney?

By reaching out for professional legal counsel as early in the legal process as possible, you allow your attorney to do serious damage control from the start, which can make a considerable difference in the outcome of your case. When you wait to consult with a practiced attorney, you do yourself and your case a disservice.

What if I cannot afford a criminal attorney?

The overall cost associated with a conviction can make the expense of an experienced criminal attorney seem like a real bargain.

The truth is that the court will not assign you a public defender just because you ask for one – or because you are hoping to save some money. In order to have a public defender assigned to your case, you will need to prove that you are indigent, which you likely are not. Further, public defenders are loaded down with more cases than they can possibly address to the best of their ability on a case-by-case basis.

In the end, the better question is can you afford not to have a dedicated criminal attorney in your corner?

Questions about Arrest and Interrogation

What should I do if I think I am going to be arrested?

If you believe the police are investigating you or fear that an arrest may be imminent, it is time to reach out for the skilled legal guidance of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. The sooner you have legal counsel in your corner, the better prepared you will be to build your strongest defense, which will guide the outcome of your case.

Is there a warrant out for my arrest?

The best way to assess if there is a warrant out for your arrest is by going through an experienced criminal attorney. Warrants are often issued for failing to appear in court after racking up mundane traffic tickets or for failing to pay court-ordered fines.

Whatever the situation, it is always a good idea to clear any warrants that you can – and to know about any warrants that are out there with your name on them.

Your criminal attorney will advise you on the best path forward for your situation. While you can also turn to the court for information regarding any warrants out for your arrest, this can backfire spectacularly and end in your arrest.

When do the police have to read me my rights?

The police are not required to Mirandize you – or read you your rights to remain silent and to have an attorney – unless you are in formal custody and are being interrogated. Until both of these are true, the police don’t have any specific obligation to you, and it’s important to note that the line between being in formal custody and not can be extremely difficult to identify.

Ultimately, anything you say can almost certainly be used against you, which makes holding out for an attorney’s guidance in your best interest.

What is my right to remain silent?

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution affords all of us the right not to incriminate ourselves, which includes the right to remain silent under questioning by the police. If you have been arrested or believe you are going to be arrested, it is in your best interest not to share any more than the following information with the arresting officers:

Saying that you will remain silent and doing so are two very different things. For example, if you let the officer know that you intend to exercise your right not to answer questions and then get chatty, anything you say can – and very likely will – be used against you.

Should I answer the officer’s questions post-arrest?

Many people mistakenly believe that speaking with the police after being charged with a crime will likely clear the matter up. As mentioned earlier, you have the right to remain silent, and it is almost always in your best interest to do so if you are under arrest.

You know that you are innocent, but your responses to the police officer’s questions can come back to haunt your case – regardless of how convincing they sound to you. This situation is one time when you should keep your gift of gab on the back burner.

If the police have charged you with a crime or are preparing to make such a charge, they believe you are guilty, and they are well-prepared and well-positioned to elicit statements from you that support their theory.

If the police are questioning you, you are required to provide them with your name and certain identifying information, but if the questioning is in relation to a crime, having a dedicated criminal attorney in your corner (before you begin answering additional questions) is the best way to protect your legal rights moving forward.

Anything extra you say to the police can be misconstrued to support their working theory. This situation is what the right to remain silent is all about. You should do yourself a favor by taking it to heart. Ultimately, anything you say to the police can be used against you, so making it your policy to wait for an attorney’s counsel is always prudent.

Regardless of the ploy used by the officer – who is almost certainly not above lying to get you to say what he or she wants to hear – wait to speak until you are advised to do so by counsel.

For more information on speaking with the police, read “Wait before Speaking with the Police.”

Questions about Bail and Imprisonment

How does bail work?

Bail refers to the amount of money that is specified by the court in exchange for your conditional release from jail. The idea behind bail is to provide you with the temporary freedom necessary to face the charges brought against you with intention while financially incentivizing your return to court for trial.

Because many defendants cannot afford to pay their bail, they often work with bail bondsmen, to whom they must pay a percentage of their total bail. Experienced criminal defense attorneys are often adept at successfully negotiating considerably lower bail amounts.

Learn more about bail in the article, “Everything You Need to Know about Posting Bail After an Arrest in Texas.”

What if I cannot afford bail?

Many criminal defendants work with bail bond companies to come up with the funding they need to make bail. Generally, you will need to come up with about 10 percent of the total bond upfront, which the bail bond company will keep for its services. Bail bond companies hire what are known as bounty hunters to find and return defendants who skip out on bail.

It is important to note that your knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will skillfully endeavor to keep the amount of your bail to a minimum (or to bypass bail altogether if possible).

How can I get out of jail?

If you have been charged with a crime and are sitting around in jail, getting out is naturally your first priority. The surest way to get out of jail as quickly as possible is to work closely with a dedicated criminal attorney from the outset. Your attorney will speed the process along and can even coordinate with the bail bond service if you would prefer.

Why is there no bail in my case?

Texas has adopted a process that is referred to as a no-bond status, which means you cannot gain release until a bail amount is set by the judge assigned to your case (in these no-bond instances).

While this is intended to help those who cannot afford bail get a chance before the judge to have a pretrial release bond authorized, it – in actuality – delays the process for those who are raring to make bail.

Other reasons for being denied bail include the following circumstances:

  • If you are on probation or are already out on bond for another criminal offense

  • If the charge you are facing is particularly violent, such as for sexual assault or murder (and the judge considers you a flight risk as a result)

  • If you have been sentenced to prison two or more times

  • Administrative errors and mistakes

If you have been denied bail, it is time to reach out for the professional legal counsel of a dedicated criminal attorney.

How quickly can I expect to get out on bail?

You can expect to wait at least about 18 hours, but if you have been languishing in jail for more than 24 hours, it is time to make some noise.

If you have been arrested for a misdemeanor, you should be taken before a magistrate for a determination of probable cause in your case within 24 hours, and the law requires that you be released on a bond of not more than $5,000. If you have been arrested for a felony, you should be released on bond not exceeding $10,000 after no more than 48 hours.

There are, of course, exceptions to these time limitations – depending upon the nature of the crime in question and the criminal record of the defendant in question. If bail has not come up in your case, your criminal attorney may be able to file a motion to set or reduce the bond, depending upon the situation.

Questions about Charges

What if my guilt is obvious?

Criminal charges are not black-and-white matters, and even if the police can prove – or believe they can prove – the charge against you, it is not the end of the matter.

When it comes to criminal charges, there is more to the situation than the alleged criminal act itself. It is paramount that you understand the strengths and challenges of the state’s case against you before making any decisions of consequence, and a skilled criminal defense attorney can help you with that.

What are the most common criminal charges in Texas?

These criminal charges are some of the most common in the State of Texas:

  • Drug charges, which can be either misdemeanor or felony charges

  • Theft charges, which involve stealing anything that is not yours

  • Burglary charges, which involve illegally breaking into a structure or vehicle

  • Robbery charges, which refer to violent crimes involving holding a victim up to steal from them

  • Aggravated assault charges, which involve intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing or threatening bodily harm to someone else

What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

The dividing line between a misdemeanor and a felony is the maximum amount of time you can spend behind bars if you are convicted. In Texas, a misdemeanor conviction maxes out at a year in county jail, while a felony charge can lead to many years in the state prison, to a life sentence, or even to the death sentence.

A state jail felony charge in Texas bridges this gap somewhat, and a conviction can lead to a sentence of from 6 months to 2 years in a state jail facility and to fines of up to $10,000.

Misdemeanor charges are grouped into Class A, Class B, and Class C charges, with Class A being the most serious. Examples of misdemeanor charges include the following crimes:

  • Shoplifting

  • Petty theft or theft of low value

  • First offense DWI

  • Disorderly conduct

  • Drug possession involving very small quantities of controlled substances

While misdemeanors are less serious charges and do not require a grand jury hearing in order to proceed, a conviction can still lead to serious consequences that can not only land you in jail but can also affect your life in many ways:

  • You may have difficulty renting a home or obtaining a home loan.

  • You may have difficulty finding work.

  • You may be unable to obtain a federal student loan and advance your education.

  • Your career standing may be affected.

  • Your standing in the community can be affected.

All criminal charges are serious criminal charges, and hoping for the best is a terrible defense strategy. Instead, contact a criminal defense attorney for help guiding your case toward its best possible resolution.

Can charges be dropped?

There are instances when the prosecution, which works on behalf of the state’s interests, will drop charges. However, unless the prosecution dismisses the charge with prejudice, it can be reinstated or brought against you again. This generally occurs when more evidence comes to light. Common reasons for dropping charges in Texas include:

  • The involved victim refuses to cooperate.

  • A credible witness or witnesses come forward with evidence that refutes the charge.

  • There is evidence available that could exonerate the defendant.

  • The defense has evidence that is deemed capable of swaying a jury.

  • The prosecution’s physical evidence is weak.

  • Evidence against the defendant is determined to have been gathered illegally.

  • Specific charges are dropped in the process of making a plea deal.

  • The defendant’s value as a witness or informant against someone else is more beneficial to the state than proceeding with the charge against them.

Questions about Defense and Plea Bargains

Should I accept a plea deal?

A plea deal or plea bargain can be an excellent opportunity to avoid a more serious charge and harsher consequences, but this is not always true.

Plea deals are generally made between defense attorneys and the state, but they always involve a guilty plea in exchange for something. As such, you will end up with a criminal record – even if the charge is less serious than the original might have been.

Taking a plea deal is not a great approach if you are completely innocent of the charge in question. However, if the evidence against you is so strong that the outcome of a trial is almost certain, refusing to take a solid plea deal may not be to your advantage.

Plea deals must be taken on a careful case-by-case basis in which the pros and cons are carefully weighed. Contact a criminal defense lawyer for help determining if a plea deal will be beneficial in your case.

What is a defense strategy?

If you are accused of a crime, you will need to defend yourself against a conviction, and, toward this end, you will need a good defense strategy. While defense strategies vary considerably from case to case, most fall into one of the following basic categories:

  • You have an alibi, which means that you can prove you were somewhere else when the crime was committed.

  • There is no proof that you committed the crime, which means that the state’s evidence is inadequate to convict you. This can mean that there is not enough evidence, the evidence is weak, or both. The prosecution is charged with proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which means there is no reasonable explanation other than you having committed the crime in question.

  • You were acting in self-defense. If you believed you were in imminent danger at the time, your actions might not have been criminal.

  • You were entrapped, which means a police officer took things too far in their effort to arrest you by engaging in coercive practices that are not legal.

  • You were under the influence of alcohol or drugs and, as a result, were not in the necessary mental state to have acted with intention. While being under the influence may mitigate the charge against you, it is unlikely to lead to acquittal.

  • You were insane at the time, which means,¬†from a legal perspective, that you were unable to distinguish right from wrong. This is a very high legal bar, and when an insanity defense prevails, it generally leads to rehabilitation in a facility rather than incarceration.

  • The defense of consent is sometimes used in cases involving sexual assault charges. It means that both parties engaged in the sexual practice consensually – rather than one party forcing or coercing the other.

Will I play a role in building my defense strategy?

You will play a pivotal role in building your entire case, which includes your defense strategy. Your criminal defense attorney works for you and cannot invoke your strongest defense without your input.

Further, whether or not you accept or deny a plea deal is entirely up to you, but your seasoned criminal defense attorney will ensure that you have all the information you need – including the implications for your future – to make these primary determinations.

Is it better to plead guilty or no contest?

A question that criminal defense attorneys frequently hear is whether it’s better to plead guilty or no contest, and the answer is a resounding – it depends on the circumstances involved. Every criminal case follows its own unique path, which means you need to make well-informed decisions that serve your best interests in relation to your specific case.

The Plea of Not Guilty

When you plead not guilty, you are telling the court that you didn’t commit the crime you’ve been accused of committing and that you are pursuing a trial to determine your guilt or innocence. Pleading not guilty means that your next appearance in court will be for your trial docket – or scheduled date.

By pleading guilty, you allow yourself the opportunity to bring your strongest defense and potentially avoid a conviction altogether. If the jury – or judge in a bench trial – hands down a not guilty verdict, it is called an acquittal, and it means not only that you’re free to go but that you also can’t be tried again for the crime in question.

The Plea of Guilty

Pleading guilty outright generally isn’t advisable, but if it is attached to an advantageous plea deal, it might be the way to go. When you plead guilty – regardless of how sweet the deal – it is the same as being found guilty by the court and will mar your record.

In the end, pleading guilty often leads to less serious consequences than being found guilty in court, which makes striking the right balance that much more complicated.

The Plea of No Contest

When you plead no contest – or nolo contendere – it means that you are neither admitting your guilt nor proclaiming your innocence. Instead, you accept that the court has enough evidence against you to obtain a conviction, and as a result, you accept the charges. A no contest plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea except that it can’t be used against you in a civil case.

It’s important to note that your no contest plea will be included in your criminal record and can be referred to if you stand trial in the future for another criminal offense. While the fact that you pled no contest will be noted, it’s unlikely to afford you a legal advantage in a subsequent case.

If I am pleading guilty, do I really need an attorney?

Making the decision to plead guilty or to take a plea deal, which amounts to pleading guilty, is a major decision that should not be made lightly. Having a criminal record will haunt you into your future, so pleading guilty should be avoided if there is a way around it.

Working closely with an accomplished criminal defense attorney helps to ensure that you achieve a favorable resolution that upholds your legal rights and supports your brightest future.

Questions about Trials and Court Proceedings

What is my preliminary hearing?

If you have been charged with a felony, your preliminary hearing will be one of the first steps in the process. In this hearing, the judge will carefully evaluate the charges brought against you to determine if there is enough probable cause to continue pursuing your case and, if so, whether there is enough evidence to charge you with the crime in question.

The standard of proof at this stage is much lower than it will be a trial, but the preliminary hearing will provide your criminal defense attorney with the opportunity to carefully examine the prosecution’s case against you, which will help him or her build your strongest case moving forward.

During the case, your attorney can also take several actions that pertain to your case:

  • Dispute the prosecution’s evidence

  • Have witness testimony thrown out

  • Seize on weaknesses in the prosecution’s case

How long will I have to wait for my preliminary hearing?

You can expect your preliminary hearing to be fairly soon. A federal mandate requires all such hearings to be held no later than 30 days after the defendant’s arrest.

As the defendant, however, you have the right to waive time, which means you have the right to delay your preliminary hearing until you and your Killeen criminal defense attorney have all the legal pieces in place and are ready to proceed.

What about the pretrial conference?

Your pretrial conference, which is also called a pretrial motion, is a legal proceeding that will take place before your trial. At this pretrial conference, you, your attorney, and the prosecution will meet before the judge to hammer out which witnesses and which evidence will be admitted at trial.

The purpose of the pretrial conference is to help ensure that your trial is fair and expeditious from the get-go. The pretrial conference is also an opportunity for your attorney to discuss a plea bargain with the prosecution (if this route is deemed beneficial to you in your unique situation).

Plea bargains usually play out in one of two ways:

  1. Pleading guilty to a lesser crime than the one originally charged

  2. Downgrading the charge you face from a felony to a misdemeanor or lesser felony

An important fact to keep in mind is that the vast majority of criminal charges are settled out of court in one way or another, and yours is likely to settle, too.

Admittedly, there is a lot to do before your case even goes to trial. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to recognize that this is normal. Being charged with a crime is one of life’s most stressful events, and it is only natural to feel the pinch.

However, you are not alone, because your dedicated criminal defense attorney is on your side and committed to skillfully advocating for your legal rights and for your case’s best possible resolution from start to finish.

What is my arraignment?

Arraignment is not the kind of work that calms a person’s nerves, but it is not as terrifying as it might sound. Your arraignment simply refers to your first appearance in court regarding the charge you face – regardless of whether you were ever arrested or taken into custody.

At your arraignment, the charge against you will be formally presented to you, and you will be required to plead in one of the following ways:

  • Not guilty (generally the best choice unless you have made a beneficial plea bargain with the prosecution)

  • Guilty

  • No contest

  • Mute plea

It is at your arraignment that the judge will decide if you will be detained in jail or released into the community, and it is at this time that the judge will set your bail (if you are detained).

Read more about criminal charges and courtroom etiquette.

Will my case automatically go to trial?

If the charge is a felony, it will have to go through the grand jury system to determine whether or not the prosecution has probable cause to bring the charge in the first place, but the grand jury hearing will not determine your guilt or innocence. From here, you will proceed toward your trial date.

If the charge you face is a misdemeanor, there will be no grand jury hearing. Instead, you will proceed toward your trial date directly.

Whether you have been indicted by the grand jury or are facing a misdemeanor charge, your case will only go to trial if you fail to resolve the matter or make some kind of advantageous deal prior to your court date. For example, if your attorney is able to have the charge against you dropped, there will be no trial.

There are many other reasons why your charge may be resolved prior to trial, but sometimes, heading to trial is the best mechanism for fighting an unfounded criminal charge. Your savvy criminal defense attorney will help you strategize the best path forward in your unique legal situation.

What if my case goes to trial?

If no plea bargain is reached – or if you and your attorney agree that proceeding to trial is in your best interest – you will begin preparing for trial. Another important note is that while you may proceed toward trial, you will likely have additional opportunities to settle your case prior to trial.

What does the grand jury do?

When a prosecutor needs to determine if there is enough evidence to bring a charge against someone, a grand jury is called. Every felony in the State of Texas requires a grand jury, which typically consists of 12 jurors who are culled from a larger pool of jurors.

Once the grand jury is selected, it will listen to the prosecutor, who runs the show. No judge is present, so the prosecutor has the discretion to call witnesses and even the defendant to testify.

The defendant does not – in this situation – have the right to have his or her criminal attorney with him or her or to plead the Fifth (this is not a trial, and Fifth Amendment rights do not apply). If you do have a valid case for the right to remain silent in this situation, however, the judge may allow it – at this juncture.

In order to indict, which is called a bill, 9 of the 12 jurors must be onboard – otherwise, it is called a no bill, and there is no indictment. While your attorney cannot go into the grand jury with you, he or she can help you prepare for this very stressful situation.

What steps are involved in a trial?

If your case goes to trial, it will follow the same basic steps that every other trial follows. After jury selection (if you are having a jury trial), your trial will follow this process:

  • Both sides make an opening statement.

  • The prosecution presents the evidence.

  • The defense cross-examines witnesses.

  • Both sides make closing statements.

If you have a jury trial, your case can only be resolved when the jury reaches a unanimous decision about your guilt or innocence. If the jury is unable to come to a unanimous decision, a mistrial will be declared. If the jury unanimously finds you guilty, sentencing becomes the next step in the trial process.

What is a bench trial?

If your case goes to court, you have the right to a jury of your peers, but you can waive this right and choose to have what is known as a bench trial. This means that, instead of having a jury, the judge alone will determine the outcome of your case.

Generally, having a jury is considered preferable, but there are some instances when having a bench trial may be a better approach:

  • If the evidence involved is very complicated and dry, it can be difficult to find a jury that is up to the task of wading through it.

  • If you have already been tried in the court of public opinion, which means that your case is very well known and much talked about, having a bench trial might be worth considering.

Are my parents or friends afforded any legal privilege?

While a spouse is afforded privilege when it comes to testifying against their partner, the same is not true of parents, other relatives, or friends. If someone who is not married to you is questioned by the police or is questioned under oath regarding what they know about the charge in question, the law requires them to share the information.

How long will my trial take?

It is only natural to want your trial to be over as quickly as possible, but rushing is unlikely to do you any favors. Your knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will strategize your strongest defense with you and proceed according to a schedule that protects your rights and helps to ensure your case’s most favorable resolution.

Your trial will be unique to the circumstances involved and will follow its own unique course, which makes it difficult to predict how long it will take prior to getting started. Your attorney, however, will keep you apprised of what to expect and will fight to ensure that your trial does not take longer than is necessary.

Questions about Sentencing and Convictions

What happens at sentencing?

If you plead guilty before trial (via a plea bargain) or are found guilty at trial, a hearing will likely be set for your sentencing, and the judge will read your sentence to you at this hearing. Your sentence may include jail time, a fine, probation, or a combination of these elements.

What are the basic fines and penalties for a felony conviction?

Felony charges in the State of Texas come in five basic classifications, and the penalties increase in accordance with the charge. Consider the following:

  • Common state jail felony charges include drug possession, burglary, and some manslaughter cases. A conviction carries a sentence of from 6 months to 2 years in a state jail and fines of up to $10,000.

  • Common third-degree felony charges include unlawful restraint, sexual coercion, and assault. A conviction carries from 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

  • Common second-degree felony charges include sexual assault, aggravated assault, and burglarizing a building. A conviction carries from 2 to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

  • Common first-degree felony charges include murder and some arson cases. A conviction carries a sentence of life in prison.

  • Capital felony cases address capital murder charges, and the death penalty can be sought. If the death penalty isn’t sought, a conviction means life in prison without the possibility of parole for those over the age of 18.

What is probation?

Probation is the suspension of your jail sentence. This means that instead of handing down a sentence of jail time, the judge will release you back into the community, and you will be required to adhere to the conditions set by the court for a specific amount of time and under the supervision of a probation officer.

If, however, you violate the terms of your probation, it can be revoked, and you will face being sent directly to jail to serve out the original sentence.

If there is a probation term that interferes with your ability to keep your job or if there’s another primary obstacle, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will skillfully make your case to the court, which could lead to more flexible terms.

The bottom line is that taking your probation terms extremely seriously is the surest means of staying out of jail. If you’re concerned that you may accidentally be in violation of your probation, taking a proactive stance that involves consulting with an accomplished criminal defense attorney is always to your advantage.

Can I appeal my conviction?

You may be able to appeal your conviction. If you and your criminal defense attorney can prove that something occurred at any stage of your trial that is not in accordance with the law, an appellate proceeding may be deemed appropriate.

What happens with an appeal?

Generally, you have only 30 days to file your appeal. If the appellate court finds that a legal error occurred, you will be entitled to a new trial. There are several important points to keep in mind when considering an appeal for your case:

  • New evidence cannot be introduced. The appeals process is, in essence, a review of the trial to ensure that it was fair.

  • Appeals cases are generally heard by a panel of three judges.

  • If your sentence is for less than ten years, you will likely be eligible for release on bond while your appeal is pending.

  • If the appellate court ultimately determines that an error of some sort was made in your case, it will be returned to the trial court to begin the trial process anew. At this point, the prosecution can decide to proceed with a new trial for your case or to dismiss it altogether.

Questions about Your Criminal Record

Is there any way to get a charge off my record?

While your situation is unique to the circumstances involved, and there is no way to say with any level of certainty whether or not your charge can be removed from your record, there may be a chance.

Even if the charge against you is dismissed, it will not completely erase your record from the data bank that houses such information. The only way to accomplish this is by suing for expunction. In certain instances, the law allows records to be expunged, and if this is a possibility for you, it is worth exploring. Generally, expunction is a possibility if any of the following apply:

  • Your case was dismissed as a result of inadequate probable cause.

  • Your case was dismissed as a result of a legal error or mistake.

  • You are found not guilty at your trial.

With a successful expungement, you will have the legal right to tell anyone who will listen – including employers, loan officers, landlords, friends, and family members – that you have no criminal convictions on your record.

What is the difference between an order for nondisclosure and an expunction?

While an order for nondisclosure can serve many of the same purposes as an expunction, they are usually reserved for instances of deferred adjudication, and they lack the power to erase a mark on your record completely.

If you receive an order of nondisclosure, which comes via a petition for nondisclosure, it should stop potential and current employers, landlords, property managers, and others from discovering your deferred adjudication. However, law enforcement will still have access to this information, and your police record and fingerprints will stay on file.

Do Not Put off Consulting with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Attorney

If you are facing a criminal charge of any kind, it is time to take the matter seriously. A conviction can leave you facing obstacles that you are unlikely to have bargained for.

If you find yourself in this difficult situation, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a focused criminal attorney who has forged his impressive career on the successful defense of cases like yours.

Mr. Pritchard is committed to harnessing the full force of his experience and legal insight in pursuit of your case’s most advantageous resolution, so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 today to learn more about how we can help you.

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