Updated on July 8, 2023
The authorities are very good at what they do: levying criminal charges, obtaining convictions, and implementing harsh sentences. As a result, it is important to know your rights, to protect them along the way, and to avoid common mistakes that make it easier for law enforcement officials to obtain convictions.
If you are facing a criminal charge, do not wait to consult with an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney. He or she will help you consider your best options and protect your rights moving forward.
Common Categories of Criminal Charges in Texas
Texas, like other states, sorts criminal charges according to the degree of severity. The more serious the crime, the higher the attendant minimum sentence. Sometimes, probation is a viable alternative to jail time, but the specifics involved and the caliber of defense provided guide the outcome of each unique case. Consider the following classification basics:
Class C Misdemeanors
The least serious charges in Texas are Class C misdemeanors, which come with no jail time and with fines of up to $500. Examples include most moving violations, public intoxication, and theft of under $50.
Class B Misdemeanors
A Class B misdemeanor can land you with a jail sentence of up to 6 months and fines of up to $2,000. Examples include possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana, driving with an invalid license, and a first-offense DWI.
Class A Misdemeanors
A Class A misdemeanor comes with a jail sentence of up to a year and fines of up to $4,000. Examples include assault causing bodily injury, theft of $500 to $1,500 worth of property, and possession of 2 to 4 ounces of marijuana.
State Jail Felonies
State jail felonies are in a category all their own and are punishable by six months to two years in jail. When it comes to these charges, there is no time off for good behavior, and those sentenced serve every day of that sentence.
The kinds of charges classified as state jail felonies include possession of less than a gram of cocaine, theft of from $1,500 to $20,000, and possession of from 4 ounces to 5 pounds of marijuana.
From here, charges move into third, second, first, and capital felonies – in order of seriousness.
Protecting Your Rights when Dealing with the Police
Dealing with the police can be intimidating, which is enough to put anyone on edge. However, you can take several steps to protect yourself and your legal rights. Remember to stay calm and follow the advice below, as well as the advice of your trusted criminal defense attorney.
Mind Your P’s and Q’s
If you are stopped by the police, it is a stressful situation, and your anxiety may be through the roof. If this is the case, you are not alone, but it is important not to let the heat of the moment get the better of you.
You are probably being filmed, and the best policy is to remain as neutral as possible while cooperating with the police. The more defensive you become, the more the situation is likely to escalate, which will not help your position.
Cooperating with the police and conducting yourself reasonably while invoking your right to remain silent and not consenting to being searched are the goals, and they can go a long way toward ensuring a favorable case outcome.
Take Your Right to Remain Silent Seriously
If the police stop you and want to question you, you are only obligated to provide them with your name and other basic information that helps identify you. You are not, however, required to answer their questions about the alleged crime and hand, and it is in your best interest not to do so.
The Fifth Amendment affords us the right to remain silent, and refraining from getting chatty with an arresting officer is always to your advantage. If the police are asking you questions – other than in a situation in which you witnessed a crime – they are generally either trying to catch you in a lie or are fishing for information that will allow them to move forward with arresting you.
The less information you hand them, the less they have to work with, making holding your tongue your best option. What you may consider an explanation of the circumstances or a defense for your actions is far more likely to come off as a confession.
While you may think that getting your side of the story out there is the best policy, the more you talk, the more ammunition you hand over to the police.
While the police want to solve whatever case has landed on their desk in accordance with the facts and evidence, this does not mean that they cannot be swayed by your misguided statement or answer to a question to find you irrevocably guilty before charges have even been considered.
It is important to note that simply invoking your right to remain silent is not enough – you have to actually remain silent. Telling the police that you will not answer any questions and then blabbing away will not do you any favors. Once you request an attorney, save your breath while protecting your legal rights.
Do Not Consent to a Search
In addition to the right to remain silent, you also have the right to refuse a search of your person, home, or vehicle. This means that if the police say, “Why don’t you pop your trunk?” you should say, “No thanks.” The same is true if the police want to dig around in the inside of your car, want to check your pockets or bag, or want to search your home.
Even if the police determine that they have probable cause to make a search, you will have no recourse in terms of questioning their legal authority to do so if you provide consent. Because the law related to searches is exceptionally complicated, denying consent upfront is the best policy.
If the Police Have a Warrant
If the police arrive at your door with a warrant, it is natural to feel intimidated by the situation, but even in such a circumstance, you have clear rights. For example, it is important to understand that warrants come with limitations.
Warrants must be based on probable cause and must specify with particularity exactly what area of your home can be searched and what the officers are looking for. A search warrant does not allow the bearer to search wherever they want and for whatever they happen upon. Your watchful eye can ensure that law enforcement does not overstep its boundaries in your home.
Resist Arrest at Your Own Peril
If the police determine that they have the legal right to arrest you, you can do nothing to stop them. In fact, anything you do to try to stop an arrest is likely to increase the volatility of the situation, which can make things worse for you.
The most important step you can take at this point is reaching out to a dedicated criminal defense attorney, implementing your right to remain silent, and strategizing the best path forward. If the police do anything while arresting you that strikes you as infringing on your legal rights, bring it up with your attorney.
Recognize that the Police Can – and Will – Lie to You
As mentioned, you are in a challenging situation, and if the friendly police officer tells you that doing X, Y, or Z is in your best interest, you may be inclined to take them at their word, but it is time to hit pause.
No matter how credible you find the officer and no matter how badly you want to believe them, it is important to know that the police can lie to you to obtain the outcome they are looking for, and they are very likely to do so if they believe it serves their purposes. The police are good at what they do, and they employ deception to good effect by taking actions such as the following:
Telling the defendant they have evidence they do not actually have
Lulling the defendant into a false sense of security
Coaxing the defendant into offering up information
Referring to eyewitness testimony that does not exist
Tricking the defendant into implicating himself or herself
A police interrogation is not the time to test your ability to separate lies from the truth. You can count on the police to get creative with their deception, so protect your legal rights by steadfastly invoking your right to remain silent while you await the professional legal guidance of your knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.
Protecting Your Rights by Working with an Attorney
If you have been charged with a crime or believe you might be charged with a crime, it is time to consult with a savvy criminal defense attorney. The sooner you reach out to an attorney, the better your rights will be protected and the better chance you will have of achieving an optimal outcome.
Ask for an Attorney during Police Questioning
If the police are questioning you, it is up to you to request an attorney and invoke your right to remain silent. Waiting and hoping that things will get better or that the police will recognize your obvious innocence in the matter will not do you or your case any favors.
Invoking your right to remain silent and to have an attorney represent you is not evidence against you, is not an indictment of your honesty, and does not speak to your guilt in the matter at hand. In fact, neither of these acts can be used against you in court. On the other hand, failing to remain silent or to work with an attorney can have dire consequences.
Choose Your Criminal Defense Attorney with Care
Just because an attorney advertises himself or herself as a criminal defense attorney does not mean they have the experience and legal skill you are looking for. The right criminal defense attorney for you has all the following attributes:
Your criminal defense attorney should have a thorough working knowledge of the prosecution’s position and approach, which is the only way to build your strongest defense.
Your criminal defense attorney should be committed to zealously advocating for your legal rights and your case’s best possible resolution.
Your criminal defense attorney should have considerable trial experience and a willingness to proceed to trial. It does not do you or your case any favors if the prosecution knows your attorney is likely to take whatever plea deal they can get. While plea deals have their place and are sometimes a good option, a deal is not necessarily the best path forward for you in your unique situation.
Your criminal defense attorney should have a keen ability when it comes to evidence gathering, which will guide your defense.
Your criminal defense attorney should help you understand what is likely to happen in your case and help you make the right choices for you along the way.
Your criminal defense attorney should inspire your confidence. While you do not need to be best friends, a lack of confidence in an attorney’s abilities likely means it is in your best interest to keep looking.
The sooner you reach out for the skilled legal counsel of a savvy criminal defense attorney, the better protected your rights will be.
Understand Your Legal Expenses Are an Investment
Consider your legal expenses as an investment in your future. Instead of attempting to reduce your legal costs, take control of your case by focusing on the benefits that come from having professional legal counsel.
The fact is that having a conviction on your record can lead to serious social consequences that you may not have even considered:
A conviction can lead to losses in terms of your overall social standing, which can directly affect your future.
A conviction is a matter of public record and can make it hard to get a job, rent a home, or take out a home loan.
A conviction can negatively affect your professional licensure and interfere with your ability to advance your career.
A conviction can leave you ineligible to obtain a federal student loan, gain acceptance into the college of your choice, or live on campus.
In other words, investing in competent legal counsel can have significant financial advantages.
Protecting Your Rights in Court
Once you are out of jail and awaiting your court date, it is important to prepare your strongest case. You will likely have considerable time to do so because court dockets tend to be overwhelmed.
It is important not to take this lull in the proceedings as a sign that your case is not a big deal. The fact is that any criminal charge is a big deal, and a conviction can have exceptionally negative consequences that reverberate far into your future.
Understand How Charges Are Brought
If the alleged crime in question is a misdemeanor, which means that it carries a maximum jail term of one year, the District Attorney’s office decides whether or not to proceed with filing the complaint against you. If the charge is a felony, which carries a maximum of more than a year behind bars, the case must proceed to a grand jury.
The grand jury is made up of a group of citizens who are tasked with determining whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed with charges against the person in question. In most cases, grand juries find that there is enough evidence to proceed.
The next step in the process is likely a preliminary hearing or two at which the judge handling your case will inform you of the charge or charges levied against you, ask how you plead, and make decisions regarding your bail or release.
Show Up for Your Court Date
It is your obligation to show up for your court date, and it is in your best interest to be well prepared to defend your rights at that time. Skipping your court date can translate to an immediate warrant for your arrest, which obviously does nothing to bolster your defense.
Be Prepared for Your Court Date
In terms of being prepared for your court date, it is important to recognize that this is your opportunity to defend yourself. One of the most important steps you can take toward this end is working closely with a seasoned criminal defense attorney from the outset.
It can also be wise to consider these other factors while preparing for your court date with your attorney:
Clearly presenting the evidence that supports your defense
Skillfully refuting any evidence that questions your defense
Recognizing your case’s strengths and challenges and proceeding accordingly
Showing up in court on time and looking the part, which means wearing the kind of clothing that you would wear to a job interview and being well-kept
Preparing your statements ahead of time, practicing answering questions ahead of time, and ensuring that you maintain a respectful tone in court
Expecting the unexpected and having contingency plans in place regarding getting yourself where you need to be on time
Your practiced criminal defense attorney will help ensure that you are well prepared for your court date, you know what is expected of you, and your rights are well protected throughout the court proceedings.
Rely on Professional Legal Guidance
You are facing a criminal charge, and, as a result, a lot of people are going to have a lot of advice to dole out. While well-meaning, the advice you receive from others should not be relied upon.
It is important to recognize that you need professional legal guidance from a seasoned criminal defense attorney with ample experience successfully guiding cases like yours toward advantageous outcomes. Your trusted criminal defense attorney will engage in all the following actions in his or her focused efforts to advance your rights:
Gathering all the available evidence and compiling it in your most effective defense
Weaving the available evidence into a solid narrative that coincides with your accounting of events
Ensuring that you spend as little time as possible behind bars before being released on bail and attempting to reduce the amount of your bail or eliminate the need for bail entirely
Effectively responding to the state’s case against you
Determining if your arrest was conducted legally, the strength of the charge against you, and the admissibility of the evidence against you
Your attorney may also skillfully negotiate for an advantageous plea deal that reduces the charge against you, lessens the penalties you face, supports your overall best interests, or eliminates the charge entirely.
However, it is important to note that plea bargains don’t always lead to an advantageous outcome. Plea deals generally translate to having a conviction of some kind on your record, which is less than ideal. Make sure to consult with your attorney before accepting any plea bargains.
Your attorney is there to help you navigate the criminal justice system with your best interests in mind and your rights intact.
Consider Your Plea Carefully
At some point in the legal process, you will be asked to enter your plea. Generally, this involves one of three options.
When you plead guilty, you admit to having committed the crime you are accused of. Even if you believe you were caught red-handed and have no way to defend yourself, pleading guilty right out of the gate is not in your best interest. You have the absolute right not to incriminate yourself, which includes not declaring yourself guilty.
Guilty pleas are generally associated with plea deals in which the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge. While plea deals can be beneficial, it means you will have a conviction on your record, which should not be entered into lightly.
Pleading No Contest
When you plead no contest – or nolo contendere – it means that, while you do not admit guilt, you are not going to fight the charge. It is important to note that the judge will treat your plea of no contest exactly like a guilty plea.
Pleading no contest is generally only beneficial in a strategic sense. For example, if you are also facing civil charges for the same alleged offense, the person charging you cannot use your guilty plea against you. Consult with your criminal defense attorney prior to moving forward with such a plea.
Pleading Not Guilty
The plea that makes the most sense and that is almost universally employed early in the process while you build your defense is not guilty. Pleading not guilty means that the prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is an exceptionally high bar.
Pleading not guilty is generally in your best interest unless you and your dedicated criminal defense attorney have worked something advantageous out with the prosecution.
An Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Is on Your Side
If you are facing a criminal charge, defending your legal rights and pursuing your best possible case resolution are paramount. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a formidable criminal defense attorney whose focus is on skillfully guiding challenging cases like yours toward optimal outcomes, and he is here for you.