On television, the handcuffs are slapped on, the person takes a ride in the police car and the next thing he or she knows is a jury is deciding innocence or guilt. Not so in real life and the Texas criminal justice system.
Arrest, Jail, and Bond
Soon after your arrest, you will be booked into jail. Within 72 hours of your booking, you will appear before a magistrate who will set a bond. The amount of the bond will vary depending on the severity of the charges against you. The bond must be paid before you can get out of jail. An experienced criminal defense attorney can often get the bond amount lowered. During the next month or so, the police department will continue its investigation and coordinate with the District Attorney’s office to decide what charges will be brought against you, either through a grand jury proceeding (only for felonies) or through an “information” (only for misdemeanors) that can be filed by the District Attorney’s office.
Appearance Dates at Court
Once charges are brought against you, you will have to appear at court. Depending on the nature of your case, it could be a few months before your first appearance. If you did not hire a criminal defense attorney when you were in jail, we strongly recommend you hire one as soon as you have been served with notice of your first hearing date. If you can’t afford to hire an attorney, you should ask the court to appoint an attorney to represent you.
Prosecutors and Negotiations
Each court has prosecutors who represent the State. Your attorney will negotiate with the prosecutors throughout the duration of your case. At your first appearance, the prosecutor will provide your attorney with all the evidence the State has against you and make a “recommendation” as to punishment. Evidence may include police reports, blood or breath test results, photographs, and police body cam videos. Your attorney will review all the evidence with you and begin negotiations with the prosecution.
Negotiated Pleas and Punishment
Typically, your criminal defense attorney will negotiate with the State to get a lesser punishment than the State’s original recommendation. At some point in the process (often after many months and many court appearances) your attorney may advise you that he or she has gotten the best deal possible for you; at which point you will have to decide whether you want to accept the State’s recommendation by entering into a “plea agreement” or whether you want to go to trial. If you choose to enter into a plea agreement, it will be presented to the judge. The judge will usually sentence you to the punishment you agreed to with the State.
Typical punishments include deferred adjudication probation, straight probation, or jail time. Deferred adjudication probation allows for your case to be dismissed after you successfully complete the negotiated period of probation plus any other agreed upon terms and conditions (e.g. community service, payment of court costs and fines, alcohol or drug classes, etc.). Successfully completing deferred adjudication probation means you will not have a conviction on your record. Straight probation most often results in your having a criminal conviction on your record, but you will not have to serve any time in jail.
Once the judge accepts your plea, your case is over. If you cannot reach an agreement with the State, your matter will go to trial whereupon your guilt or innocence will most likely be decided by a jury who will, in most cases, also assess your punishment.
The foregoing is a simplified sketch of a very complicated process. If you find yourself in the back of that police car, don’t say anything and contact an experienced defense attorney
And remember: “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.”