The Process of a Criminal Case
Generally, a person is arrested and booked into the City or County jail. After booking and usually in the morning they will appear before a magistrate who will then set a bond amount. From here someone should be able to contact the detention facility and find out what type of bond (cash or surety) may be posted for the release. If a vehicle was towed as a result of an arrest the detention facility should be able to supply the person with the information necessary to retrieve the vehicle.
Posting bond is an important part of the process, depending on a person's available resources they may post a cash bond or use a bail bondsman to post a surety bond.
Cash Bond - Any money posted will be returned at the completion of the case, subject to any fees the jail may deduct.
Surety Bond - Often using a bail bondsman is the only option when the full amount cannot be posted in cash. Bail bond companies charge a minimum of 10% of the bond amount to post a bond. Any money paid to a bail bondsman WILL NOT BE RETURNED after the completion of the case. A person who uses a bail bondsman may also need to check in with the bondsman on a weekly basis.
Before the case is indicted or filed
This is often a difficult time for the client, there are no police reports or other evidence available to the Attorney and sometimes not even a court date to look forward to. This can occur for various reasons, sometimes the State is preparing the case to present before a Grand Jury or preparing a misdemeanor for filing. In preparation the State may have to wait for various items such as lab reports from blood testing or lab reports from testing of physical evidence. If a case is not get indicted by a Grand Jury or filed before the statute of limitations period expires then it may not be prosecuted. It is important to have legal representation during this phase so that an Attorney may monitor the status of the case.
After the case is filed or indicted
This is the phase of the case where court dates are scheduled and the discovery process can begin. Clients should expect to appear in court on every setting. After the State has turned over discovery, we will schedule a meeting with the client to review the evidence and discuss possible outcomes. Various pretrial motions may be filed during this phase and will be determined on a case by case basis. At this stage the attorney will advise the client as to what options are available and what the attorney recommends be done. However, the decision is that of the client as to how to proceed. The typical case will reach this point and end with a plea negotiated by your attorney or by setting the case for trial.
While a trial may be the option that the attorney recommends, it is often the last place you want to be. Even if you are innocent there are many factors that make going to trial a risk at best. Trial can be broken down into three phases:
First there is Voir Dire or Jury Selection. At this time the defense and state attorney will question a pool of jurors as to how they feel about various items. The attorneys cannot talk about the specifics of the case, but can talk about general items that apply to the case. This includes whether a potential juror knows any of the parties involved, how they feel about the minimum / maximum punishments, the elements that must be proved in order to find someone guilty of the particular offense, any personal reservations jurors may have about a particular offense, past dealings with law enforcement, explaining that a defendant has no duty to testify or put on any evidence since they are innocent until proven guilty, and many other items. The selection process differs from what you may think; attorneys do not get to choose what jurors they want but rather they have a certain number of preemptory strikes to use to strike particular jurors. The leftover jurors are the ones selected to sit on the jury.
Second comes the Guilt / Innocence phase. This is where the state presents its case in chief though witnesses and evidence. The state calls a witness to the stand asks questions and then the defenses has an opportunity to cross-examine the same witness. This is repeated for each witness the state chooses to call. The attorneys are limited by the Texas Rules of Evidence as to what types of questions they can ask a particular witness. Evidence in the guilt/innocence phase must be limited to factual evidence that enables the jury to reach a verdict. After the state has rested its case in chief the defense has an opportunity to call witnesses on its behalf and the state then gets to cross-examine the same witness. After the defense rests its case in chief both sides will move on to closing arguments. Closing arguments is where each side reviews and summarizes the witness testimony for the jury. The defense will go first and the state will be the last to present its closing argument, this is because the state carries the burden of proof so they are permitted to have the "final word" in closing. After closing arguments, the Judge will read the charge to the jury and retire them to their deliberations. A jury may take as long as necessary to decide their verdict. One chosen, the Judge will read the verdict in open court and proceed accordingly.
Third comes the punishment phase. If found guilty by a jury, the defendant has a choice as to who they want to assess punishment, either the court or the jury. While this decision must be made prior to the commencement of trial, it does not come into play until the punishment phase begins. At this time the State and Defense will present their respective cases for proper punishment. Character witnesses are encouraged at this time.
If a person is found guilty of an offense as the result of a trial, they may be able to appeal the case to a higher Court. There are stringent time limitations for when a notice of appeal must be filed with the Court. If this is something that a client is interested in they should not hesitate in communicating with the Attorney, failure to do so could result in missing the opportunity to appeal the case.