The Criminal Process
If you were recently arrested, there are some important aspects of the criminal justice system that you should understand. A lack of understanding can lead to fear, but our firm wants to dispel that fear by providing you with pertinent information about the criminal process and the justice system in Texas. Criminal procedure is handled by The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and can be broken down into seven major categories: the initial arrest or summons, first court hearing, possibility of bail, plea bargains, indictment, arraignment and the possibility of a trial by jury or judge.
Arrests and Summons
The first encounter you will likely have with law enforcement is during an arrest although some individuals receive a summons to appear in court through the mail. The person accused of a crime is referred to as the “defendant.” Once the individual has been arrested or summoned, they will receive a written notice of important details. The details of this notice will include the court date as well as the offense they are being accused of. It is important to pay careful attention to the court dates listed on the notice, as failure to appear at your first hearing will likely result in a warrant for arrest. An arrest warrant is an authorization from a judge that allows law enforcement to arrest and detain an individual on site.
First Hearing and Evaluating Bail
The first court hearing is where the defendant will be informed of their rights as well as the procedure that will follow. Many individuals will hire an attorney to accompany them to this hearing, and this is a wise choice. Individuals who appear at their first court hearing will also be advised of their right to an attorney. At this point, if the defendant does not already have an attorney, they may hire one. If the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney, then the court may choose to appoint one. All defendants also have the right to bail. Defendants that post bail are released until a final court decision has been made. If bail is not posted, then the defendant will remain contained in jail until the case is resolved.
Pleas, Indictments, Arraignments & Trial
A plea bargain is an agreement in criminal cases in which a defendant might make the choice to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence or something else in exchange from the prosecutor. For example, a defendant might plead guilty to assault with a deadly weapon but in exchange for that guilty plea they are awarded a lighter sentence than is typical for that criminal offense. Plea bargains can be beneficial to many people, but they are not wise for every case. A criminal defense attorney will advise their client as to whether or not accepting a plea bargain would prove to be a favorable option.
When you hear the word “indictment,” this is referring to the formal accusation of a criminal offense. The most serious criminal offense to be indicted on in the state of Texas is a capital felony. It is important here to understand how the arraignment and the plea correspond. A criminal arraignment is the process of formally reading the criminal charges against the defendant. Once those charges have been read before the defendant, they will be asked how they will plea. Acceptable pleas are “guilty” or “not guilty.” If a defendant pleads guilty, then in most cases they will go to a hearing to evaluate the evidence. The step after a not guilty plea is typically a preliminary hearing or a trial.
Aggressive Defense from Our Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers
If you were recently arrested for a criminal offense, received a summons to appear in court or have already attended your first hearing, please seek representation from a Texas criminal defense attorney at our firm. The Carlson Law Firm has many experienced Criminal Process attorneys on staff that can help explain the criminal process to you as well as provide high quality defense against your charges. Take the first step toward strong representation and contact a Texas criminal defense attorney from our firm today.