Texas Criminal Defense FAQ
If you are facing a criminal charge, there is a lot at stake, and your future is too important not to fight for your legal rights and to bring your strongest defense from the outset. The criminal justice system is complicated, and finding yourself plopped in the middle of it can be overwhelming. Fortunately, having the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to the criminal justice system in Texas can help.
What are the basic steps of the criminal procedure?
If you are facing a criminal charge, the path forward will be unique to the circumstances at hand, but the basic steps remain the same (as applicable).
Before you are arrested, the police officer will read you your rights, which include the right to remain silent and the right to consult with an attorney. Not only should you avail yourself of these rights, but you should affirmatively state that you would like to do so.
Your booking is an administrative element of the criminal process in which your name, contact information, and the crime you are charged with will be recorded. Your picture will also be taken, and your fingerprints cataloged.
Within 48 hours of being arrested, you will go before the judge, and he or she will inform you of the charge or charges that have been levied against you. The judge will also advise you of your right to retain counsel, to remain silent, to have an attorney present during any interview processes, and to terminate said interviews at any time. The judge will also allow you a reasonable amount of time to consult with your attorney and will set a reasonable bond (as appropriate).
Next, you’ll make an initial appearance – or arraignment – in court. Here, you will be provided with your charging instrument and will be given the opportunity to do the following:
To hear your charges read in open court
To enter a plea
To request a continuance (if required)
Many cases are continued to allow for further investigation by both sides. At your arraignment, your criminal attorney will have the opportunity to access the prosecution’s file (including the police report) and to enter into plea negotiations (if this approach is considered to be in your best interest).
At your preliminary hearing, the judge will determine whether or not you should be held for trial. It is the prosecution’s task to provide enough evidence to convince the judge that a crime occurred and that you committed it. At your preliminary hearing, there may also be a discussion between both sides about bond conditions, such as an electronic monitoring requirement. This is a prime example of when it is a good idea to let your attorney speak on your behalf.
Trial and Beyond
From here, you will move on to trial, sentencing, and appeal (as applicable).
What Happens at Trial?
At trial, your defense attorney and the prosecution will begin with opening statements that describe the position of each. Throughout the trial, witnesses will be called, and the evidence will be presented. From here, both sides will make their closing statements, which are intended to sum up everything they have presented thus far. The judge will then instruct the jury, which will proceed to deliberate a verdict. Once the verdict is announced, either your case will be resolved, or your attorney will proceed with a post-trial motion, such as a motion for a new trial.
How should I prepare for the trial?
You and your criminal attorney will carefully strategize and prepare for your trial, but there are things you can do to help yourself.
Let Your Dress Reflect Your Respect for the Court
Going to court for a criminal charge is stressful, and there is no way to avoid this fact. One important proactive step you can take, however, is to ensure that you dress appropriately and look your best, which can bolster your confidence and help you face the matter with increased purpose. This includes being well-kempt, wearing clean, well-cared for, and conservative clothing, and dressing comfortably. Reflecting your respect for the court by looking appropriate is always a good idea.
Let Your Criminal Attorney Do the Talking
It is generally a good idea to allow your attorney to do all the talking for you in court – unless your attorney has advised you to testify on your own behalf or the judge questions you directly. If you do speak in court, answer the questions put to you as succinctly, politely, and clearly as possible.
Be on Time
Being late to your court date makes an already stressful situation that much more so. The best course of action is doing a dry run to ensure that you know your travel route to court, know how long it will take you to get there, know where to park, and know which courtroom is yours
What are my rights throughout the process?
Throughout the criminal procedure, all the following rights apply:
You have the right to a presumption of innocence until you are proven guilty.
The prosecutor is burdened with proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
You have the right not to incriminate yourself, which means that you do not have to testify.
You have the right to a speedy trial and to an impartial jury.
You have the right to cross-examine (or confront) the state’s witnesses.
You have the right to subpoena witnesses to testify on your behalf.
You have the right to appeal the verdict you receive.
What is bail?
If you are put in jail prior to trial, you will likely be required to post bail in order to get out before your hearing. Bail refers to money you pay the court to help ensure that you show up for your required appearances. When you appear in court as ordered, your bail money will be returned to you. If you fail to do so, however, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. There are bail schedules that guide the amount your bail will be set at, but the prosecution may attempt to persuade the judge that you are a flight risk and that he or she should increase your bail accordingly. Conversely, your defense attorney will endeavor to demonstrate that you have a family and a job and that you are not a serious flight risk – in an effort to reduce your bail (or even to eliminate it altogether).
What if I cannot afford bail?
The fact is that most people do not have access to the amount of cash that is necessary to cover bail, and many turn to bail bond services for the financial help they need. Bail bond companies cover your bail for a percentage upfront (generally 10 percent), and when you arrive for your court date, the entire bail is returned to the bail bond company (your 10 percent is its payment).
RELATED READINGS: Bail Bonds and How They Work
What is probation?
Probation amounts to the suspension of a jail sentence, which is usually jail time and/or a fine. If you are given probation, you will need to abide by the conditions set by the court in lieu of any jail time and will be under the supervision of a probation officer throughout the probation period. If you fail to adhere to probation terms, it can be revoked, and you can be sent directly to jail to complete your sentence.
RELATED READINGS: Know How Not to Violate Your Probation
What is an appeal?
If you are convicted of the charge in question, you may – under certain circumstances – have the right to appeal the sentence you receive. If, for example, your attorney can demonstrate that your trial involved improper procedures, an appeal may be in order.
What if I have been contacted as part of an investigation?
If the police have contacted you about a criminal investigation, taking the matter seriously is well advised. Discussing the matter prior to any charges being filed can help you better understand if you face any potential legal liability. Because limiting your legal exposure is always a good idea, reach out to an experienced criminal attorney earlier rather than later.
Should I cooperate with the police?
Many people confuse cooperating with the police and spilling their guts. You are required to cooperate with the police in terms of answering their basic questions as they relate to your contact information and to doing what you are asked to do. You are not, however, required to answer their questions and should not do so without an attorney present.
How serious are the negative consequences of an arrest?
The potential negative consequences of being arrested cannot be overstated and are important to consider.
A felony charge can prevent you from obtaining a job, which can obviously have a profound effect on your earning potential in the future. In fact, a felony charge alone can automatically disqualify you from even being considered for some occupations. In fact, a felony charge can stop the career you have worked so hard to build in its tracks.
A criminal charge can complicate all of your financial relationships, including matters as mundane as opening a checking account to more substantial issues such as obtaining a home, car, or business loan.
A felony charge can limit your ability to further your education in important ways. For example, you will not be eligible for federal student loans; you may not be eligible to live on campus, and gaining acceptance into the school of your choice can be that much more difficult.
A serious criminal charge can affect your ability to obtain a mortgage, but it can also make renting a home difficult. The fact is that most landlords do extensive background checks when it comes to potential tenants, and a blight of this nature could leave you disqualified.
A criminal charge can tarnish your reputation, and because your reputation is critical to your future, protecting it is well worth the effort.
What are some of the most common criminal charges?
Criminal charges come in nearly limitless varieties, but some of the most common fall into several basic categories.
Assault and Battery
In Texas, assault and battery charges are one and the same, and they amount to extremely serious charges. Assault refers to the act of knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly causing someone else to be injured or to reasonably fear being injured.
Because domestic violence is a serious issue that must be taken seriously, those who are falsely accused can face a very difficult path forward, and working closely with an experienced criminal attorney is in your best interest.
A conviction for driving while intoxicated can have serious consequences, and Texas takes the matter seriously. The legal limit in Texas is 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC), but if the police determine intoxication based on observed impairment, they can make the call even if you do not exceed the legal limit. This means that the police have considerable discretion on the matter. A DWI conviction can leave you facing jail time, serious fines, and a suspended license.
Sex crimes come in many different categories, and they are all exceptionally serious. The social implications alone can be life-altering.
The State of Texas has some of the harshest possession laws in the nation, and even a relatively minor charge can upend your life in ways you may not have even considered.
Do Not Wait to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Attorney
If you are facing a criminal charge, the time to take serious action is sooner rather than later.
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a distinguished criminal attorney who recognizes the seriousness of your situation and is well prepared to help. Mr. Pritchard is committed to building your strongest defense – in focused pursuit of your case’s optimal outcome. Our proven legal team is on your side and here to help, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information today.