The Criminal Hearing Process in Texas
When a person is suspected of committing a crime in the state of Texas, they can be forced to enter the criminal justice system in a series of steps that begin with an arrest by a law enforcement officer. Once an arrest has been made, the next step in the process will begin very quickly.
Typically, a person placed under arrest will be booked into jail and have a bail amount set for their case. Whether that person posts bail or not, they will have a court date set, which is known as the arraignment.
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The First Court Appearance: Arraignment
The arraignment is the first step in the criminal hearing process. It is typically the first time that a person will go to court and appear before a judge. It is sometimes known as a hearing, because the arraignment is the time when the judge, the court and the defendant will officially hear the charges that are being presented in a specific case.
Although a defendant will be asked to enter a plea at the arraignment, their entrance of a plea is not the end of the case and the plea that they enter can have a major impact on how their case proceeds.
Felony Vs. Misdemeanor
The arraignment process is a bit different for misdemeanor charges and felony cases. For a misdemeanor offense, the prosecuting attorney, usually the D.A., will present an information document listing the charges that the defendant is facing.
In a felony case, the prosecuting attorney must present the case to a grand jury to seek an indictment. Grand juries very commonly agree to return an indictment and the arraignment can then take place.
One of the most important aspects of the arraignment process is the entrance of a plea. The defendant or their attorney may enter a plea based on how they want the case to proceed:
- Guilty: This plea means that the defendant accepts the charges and wishes to be sentenced without a trial.
- Not Guilty: This plea means that the defendant does not accept the charges but may change their plea at a later time, such as when they accept a plea bargain.
- No Contest: This plea means that the defendant does not officially dispute the charges but also does not admit guilt.
If a defendant has hired a criminal defense attorney, they may not need to actually be present at the arraignment. Their lawyer can usually appear and enter their plea for them.
After The Plea
If a defendant enters a guilty plea, they can be sentenced shortly after. However, many criminal defense attorneys will advise their clients to enter a plea of not guilty and proceed with the case.
After the plea is entered, the court will set further dates for court appearances. These appearances are used by the defense attorneys to demand that the prosecution presents all of the evidence that they plan to use in the court case. This will allow the defense attorney to make a determination about how the case should be handled.
If the defense attorney believes that the prosecution will be open to a plea bargain, he or she can meet with the defendant to discuss their options. If the defense attorney finds out that the prosecution may not have a good chance of winning the case, he may advise the defendant to take the case to trial and fight the charges.
It’s very important to consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after an arrest has occurred in order to build a strategy for handling the case.
After the arraignment has been complete, the court will begin announcing dates for further appearances. In many cases, there will be several appearances before an actual trial. How the defendant spends this time depends on whether or not they posted bail.
When a person is arrested and booked into jail, they will almost always have a bail amount set. If they pay this bail, they can be released from jail to await their trial while living at home and working at their job. This is preferable to waiting in jail because it makes it easier to continue life as normal and continue meeting with an attorney.
However, when a person is released on bail, they will have to abide by certain conditions. This can include:
- Abstaining from any further criminal activities
- Abstaining from drug and alcohol use
- Abiding by a curfew or driving restrictions
- Attending regular meetings with a supervising officer
- Appearing on time and ready for all court dates
If the defendant violates any of these conditions of bail, their bail can be rescinded and they may be ordered to wait for their trial date in jail. Also, bail violations can make it more difficult to reach a plea bargain or a favorable trial outcome.
If a person cannot pay their bail or if the court refuses to set bail because the defendant is believed to be a flight risk, they may have to wait in jail for their trial date. In most cases, the time that they serve in jail can be counted against their eventual sentence. If a defendant believes that their bail has been set unfairly high, their attorney can appear before the judge to formally request a reduction in bail.
Hiring An Attorney
After a person has been booked into jail, they will be given opportunities to communicate with the outside world. Although it is commonly believed that a person booked into jail will get “one phone call,” this is usually not the case and the person will be allowed to make multiple calls.
However, it’s important to make those calls count. The first call should be to a friend or family member who can arrange for bail to be posted and who can also contact a reputable attorney. If a person already has a lawyer on retainer or if they know a lawyer, their first call should be to an attorney who can help with the bail process and the arraignment.