The first stage in any criminal case is the investigation phase which usually consists of law enforcement agencies employing various tactics to gather information. These tactics could involve search warrants, interrogations, seizure of property, or interviewing witnesses. This phase is the time that law enforcement officials are gathering evidence to determine if there is enough “probable cause” for an arrest.
If you know you are being investigated by law enforcement, seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Don’t wait until you are arrested. Having someone on your side from the start may prove helpful in the end.
If the investigation phase turns up enough probable cause, then law enforcement will arrest you. There are certain steps that must be followed when being arrested, including advising you of your Miranda Rights. These rights include, as most people are aware, the “right to remain silent.” If you find yourself being arrested, do not answer questions or talk to the police without your attorney present. You must invoke your right to remain silent and to have an attorney represent you. Simply saying you think you need an attorney is not invoking your right. You must be assertive during this time. State plainly and clearly “I wish to remain silent and I would like to talk to a lawyer.” Once you have invoked your rights, STOP TALKING! People often say “I don’t want to talk” and then they start talking. You can tell police your name and basic information, such as your address and birth date, but do not say anything else.
In addition, do not talk to other inmates or to family members. The other inmates are not your friends. There is no camaraderie. They will use the information to turn over to the police in hopes of securing a better deal for themselves. Every person in that jail with you is looking out for themselves only. You should also assume that any conversations you have in jail with visitors, whether in person or over the phone, are being recorded and monitored. Your conversations with your lawyer are confidential, however, and you and your lawyer can decide what you should say, if anything.
Arraignment & Bail
This phase of the case is essentially your first appearance in court and when formal charges are filed against you. During this brief hearing, you will appear before a judge with your attorney (if you choose to hire one) and the judge will confirm your identity, that you know what crime you are being charged with, and will ask how you plead. This is the time that you would enter a plea of either guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
Most defendants plead not guilty at the arraignment. This allows the attorney time to investigate and gather information to prepare your defense. If you plead guilty at the arraignment, the Court will go straight to sentencing.
The Judge will set bail for you at this time, along with your next court appearance. Bail allows you the freedom to go home during the trial proceedings. Depending on the amount of bail, it may be necessary to hire a bail bondsman to assist you in posting bail and getting out of jail.
Pre-trial Hearings & Plea Bargaining
The next hearing after the arraignment is the beginning of pre-trial conferences and hearings. These hearings are a time for the prosecutor and the defense to review the case facts, discuss strengths and weaknesses of the case, and review any special circumstances or reasoning behind the defendant’s actions. The pre-trial process is also the time when the prosecutor and the defense attorney either dismiss the charges, or bargain for a lesser charge in exchange for a guilty plea, or possibly some other deal which the defendant may accept. Most criminal cases end during this phase due to plea bargaining.
If a plea bargain is not reached and the defendant plead not guilty, then the case will move to trial. The defendant can request that a jury decide his case or, if a jury trial is waived, then the Judge will hear the case. Depending on the complexity of the case, a trial can last a short time period or can drag on for many months.
When the trial has been concluded, then the Judge or the jury will deliberate. Deliberation ends with the announcement of a verdict. This is the time that a defendant either wins or loses the trial.
The sentencing phase can happen early in the process, such as a defendant pleading guilty at the arraignment, or it can happen after a verdict is announced. If a defendant pleads guilty, or is found guilty by a Judge or jury, then the case proceeds to the sentencing phase. The Judge will take into consideration many factors, including the defendant’s criminal record, responsibilities, level of remorse, and other considerations in addition to the sentencing guidelines in the Texas Penal Code.
If the worst has happened and you find yourself in the nightmare of being found guilty, you are entitled to appeal the verdict. The Texas Court of Appeals is the mid-level court system that looks for instances of improper procedural issues that have taken place in the initial trial and this court has the power to overturn a lower court’s decision. The highest court in Texas for criminal cases is the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and they take appeal cases from the mid-level court system or direct appeals where the death penalty is a possibility.
If you are facing the possibility of going through the criminal process, do not go at it alone. Educate yourself. Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney that will fight for your rights from start to finish. You are risking it all, so make sure your criminal defense attorney is giving it their all. Call us today to schedule your consultation.