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How Criminal Cases Start and How the Prosecution Operates

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In Texas, a criminal investigation starts either by an individual filing a complaint about a crime or a crime occurring. If an individual files a police compliant, they allege someone committed a crime against them such as stalking or assault. The alleged victim may name the person they know or believed committed the crime. The police take the information given and investigate to determine if a crime was committed and/or who committed the crime.

The second way a police investigation starts is when they are called to a crime scene such as a death. The police are responsible for finding suspects who allegedly committed the crime based on their evidence. Remember, police aren’t a jury. They aren’t responsible for determining guilt. They are strictly responsible for finding the suspect.

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Turning a Police Investigation into a Criminal Charge

Once they have found their suspect, they turn their evidence over to county prosecutors. If the police have already arrested the suspect, they make an arrest report detailing all the events that led to the arrest. Based on the report, prosecutors can:

  • File a complaint with the trial court
  • Not pursue the criminal investigation
  • Present evidence to the grand jury. It’s the grand jury’s responsibility to indict a suspect. The grand jury only hears one side of the case, the state’s side. A prosecutor can also ask the grand jury what criminal charges, if any should be brought against the suspect.

Whether a suspect becomes a defendant in a criminal case depends a lot of the prosecutor’s mindset. They actually make decisions on pursuing a case on whether they can win at trial. If there’s not enough evidence to convince a judge or jury to convict, they may not charge the suspect.

Other factors that have nothing to do with guilt or innocence includes:

  • Media attention. If the crime was a high profile investigation.
  • Political aspirations of the prosecutor. The prosecutor may want to seek a higher office or stay in the prosecutor’s office. They may use the case to win voters.
  • Set an example. This may depend on the offense or individual’s status in Texas. For instance, the prosecutor may want to use the suspect as an example for other residents not to commit the same crime.
  • Office policies. Texas prosecutors have specific policies regarding crimes they will and won’t prosecute.

Arrest in Texas

An arrest in Texas can happen one of two ways: with probable cause or a warrant. Probable cause involves police being able to point to specific and objective circumstances leading them to believe a suspect committed a crime. No criminal charges have been filed against them. An arrest warrant means criminal charges have been filed with the county based on specific evidence given to a prosecutor.

After an arrest in Texas, an officer must inform the person they have the right to:

  • Remain silent
  • Consult an attorney. If they can’t hire one, one will be appointed for them.
  • Have an attorney present during police interrogation

If a police officer fails to read the person their rights, commonly called Miranda Rights, charges aren’t dropped. A criminal defense attorney may use the fact that they weren’t read their rights at trial.

The Initial Appearance

Regardless of whether a person is read their rights or not, they will be transported to county jail. According to Texas law, requires anyone arrested for a crime be taken before a judge within 48 hours. This only longer if their arrest occurs during a holiday or on the weekend.

During their first court appearance, called an initial appearance, a judge reads the charges against the individual. The judge also informs the accused they have the right to counsel, to terminate any police interviews at any time and to remain silent. The judge also lets the accused know they can request an examining trial to establish the reasons for the probable cause or arrest.

The most important part of the initial appearance is to set bail. Bail is the amount of money the accused must pay to leave jail. Often, the bail is paid by a bail bondsman or family members. The money is paid to the court. Sometimes the accused is released on their own recognizance, or OR, bond. An OR bond is a jail release without payment.

Filing Criminal Charges

Texas criminal law, only gives a prosecutor a specific time frame to file charges when the accused remains behind bars. A prosecutor must file criminal charges against the individual via indictment, complaint or information within:

  • 90 days for a felony
  • 30 days for a Class A misdemeanor
  • 15 days for a Class B misdemeanor

If the person makes bond, the time limit is extended to two years for a misdemeanor. If charges aren’t filed, the case is typically dropped. A prosecutor has more time to file in a felony case. They have five to 10 years for some felonies. More serious felonies like indecency with a child and murder don’t have a time limit.

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Getting to Trial

Many steps occur prior to a trial. For instance, an arraignment hearing is where a judge reads the criminal charges against the defendant. The defendant has the chance to enter a plea and request a continuance.

During the discovery phase, which happens after the arraignment, prosecutors hand over evidence. Discovery allows defense attorneys to know more about the case against their client. Evidence includes police officer reports, prosecution witness statements, anything they plan to introduce at trial. Once a defense attorney receives this evidence, they can create a defense strategy and determine the strength or weakness of the prosecutor’s case.

The trial phase includes the innocence/guilt phase and the punishment phase. The defendant can choose a jury trial or trial by judge. A jury trial involves a group of the defendant’s peers deciding their fate. In a trial by jury, a defendant waives their right to a jury trial in and have the judge determine their guilt or innocence.

If the jury or judge finds the defendant guilty, the punishment phase begins. During this trial phase, a defendant learns their criminal sentence. The victim and/or their family members are allowed to speak. The defendant is also allowed to ask for a lighter sentence.

Hiring a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney

During every phase of the arrest, it’s a criminal attorney’s job to get the charges dropped or reduced. Prosecutors typically don’t negotiate a plea bargain with the defendant. So a defense attorney can do the job on their client’s behalf. A plea bargain is a guilty a plea in exchange for a less sentence or criminal charge.

If none of those things occur, the attorney will fight the case at trial. A defense attorney can’t guarantee a not guilty verdict. However, they can build a strong defense and tear apart the prosecutor’s case. Another responsibility is to make sure their client’s Constitutional rights aren’t violated by police, prosecutors or at trial. Call The Law Office of Brett Podolsky at 713-227-0087 for immediate assistance.

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