From arrest to trial, criminal defendants are provided certain procedural rights. Most states have similar procedures, but with some differences. All procedures must comply with laws protecting defendants' rights. A short introduction to how Texas processes its criminal defendants is presented in this article.
Arrest, Miranda Rights and Booking
Defendants can be arrested by a warrant or when law enforcement has probable cause that a crime has been perpetrated by the person arrested. Misdemeanor arrests can only be made if the officer observes the commission of the crime.
Miranda rights must be told to an arrested person:
- They have the right to remain silent
- What they say will be used against them
- During questioning an attorney may represent them, and
- If indigent, a lawyer may be appointed for them.
After taken into custody, an accused is booked into a facility. All personal effects are confiscated and inventoried, personal information is obtained, a strip search may be conducted, and the arrestee is photographed and fingerprinted. A phone is available to call out. At this time, the amount of bail may be ascertained and a court date set. If in custody, a defendant must appear before a judge within 48 hours of arrest unless it occurred on a weekend.
If bail is permitted, defendants may post cash, a surety bond, or a personal bond. A surety bond is posted by a bondsperson after the defendant pays a fee. A personal bond, if approved by a judge, is a sworn agreement by the accused to appear. It requires payment within seven days to Pretrial Services of either $20 or 3 percent of the bond amount.
First Court Date, Arraignment, and Pleas
Most misdemeanor defendants in Texas are arraigned in county court where the defendant is identified, charges are presented, rights are read, and a plea entered if the defendant is represented by counsel. Attorneys may appear in court without their clients in many misdemeanor cases.
Felony defendants appear in district court. All serious felony charges must be filed by indictment before a grand jury.
A defendant must enter one of the following pleas:
- Guilty: defendant admits the charges.
- Not guilty: the defendant did not commit the offense.
- No contest: a defendant is not admitting guilt but is not contesting the charges; plea cannot be used as evidence in any subsequent civil trial.
- Mute plea: a not guilty plea that allows a defendant to contest the correctness of the criminal process to this point.
Plea Bargaining in Court
About 90 percent of all criminal cases are disposed of by a plea bargain. A defendant usually pleads guilty or no contest to a reduced charge, less jail time or dismissal of other charges.
Grand Jury Requirement and Preliminary Hearings
All serious felony charges in Texas are brought by grand jury indictments. Less serious felonies may be brought by an Information, which is a legal charging document. If not indicted, a felony defendant can request a preliminary hearing to contest probable cause.
The Trial and Sentencing Process
Felony trials have 12 jurors and misdemeanor trials have six. All jurors must find a defendant guilty by unanimous verdict if convinced of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Misdemeanor defendants who are found guilty are usually sentenced immediately. In felony cases, judges consider a pre-sentence report that includes factors such as the type of crime, remorse by the defendant, criminal history, and personal circumstances. Sentencing includes jail, probation, fines, restitution, and community service.
Importance of a Criminal Attorney
Since criminal procedures and sentences for similar crimes vary among the states, retain a criminal defense attorney if you face criminal charges.