You don’t go directly to trial when facing criminal charges in Texas. The pretrial process involves many steps, such as a criminal court hearing.
Understanding what to expect during a criminal court hearing and other such stages can help you be more confident throughout this process. Steps to anticipate may include:
Arrest/Notice to Appear
Several things happen when the police arrest you in Texas. During and immediately after an arrest, the police will usually:
- Transport you to their police station
- Take your fingerprints
- Photograph you
- Hold you in jail
The police may keep you in jail until you appear before a judge. You should appear before a judge within 48 hours of your arrest.
Depending on various factors, such as the nature of your crime, the police may not arrest you. If you were arrested, they might not hold you in jail after your arrest.
You may instead receive a notice to appear in court. Comply with the terms of this notice. A court will issue a warrant for your arrest if you don’t appear in court at the specified time and date.
First Court Appearance
After arresting and processing you, the police turn over the evidence they have to the prosecutor’s office before your first appearance in front of a judge. The prosecutor’s office will review the evidence accordingly.
Under Chapter 17 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, a judge will set bail during this appearance. Bail is an amount of money you must post to assure the court you will appear at all ensuing criminal proceedings.
Posting bail secures your release from jail. You may enlist the services of a bail bond company if you can’t afford bail. Doing so usually involves paying a fee that’s likely to be a percentage of the total bail amount.
A judge won’t always grant bail. Common reasons judges don’t grant bail include:
- A high risk that an individual accused of a crime will flee to avoid legal consequences
- There’s reason to believe an individual will be a danger to others if they don’t remain in jail
- The accused has violated previous bail terms
A judge will inform you of the charges against you during your first court appearance. They will explain your legal rights and may enforce additional pretrial bail conditions (such as refraining from drug use).
A preliminary hearing is a criminal court hearing that occurs before a case goes to trial. Participants in a preliminary hearing may include:
- The judge
- The prosecution
- Your defense attorney, if you have one
According to Chapter 28 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the following may occur during a preliminary criminal court hearing:
- Arraignment, if you have not already had the charges against you explained
- Appointment of counsel if you don’t have a lawyer and can’t afford one
- Entering of pleas
- Entering of special pleas, in some cases
- Motions for continuance, which can postpone the dates of hearings, trials, or both
- Motions to suppress evidence, which involve asking that the prosecution not be allowed to present certain evidence during a trial (if, for example, the police obtained the evidence illegally)
- Motions for change of venue, if there are reasons it may be necessary for your trial to occur in another jurisdiction
- Discovery, which involves the sharing of evidence between parties
- Entrapment discussions, if applicable
- Formal requests for an interpreter to be appointed, if necessary
A judge may dismiss a case during a preliminary hearing. They may do so if the prosecution’s evidence is weak. Initial preliminary hearings often serve to screen out cases in which securing a conviction may be unlikely. However, you should not assume this will be the outcome.
Your case might never go to trial. Even if the court finds the prosecution’s evidence is strong enough to justify moving forward with the case against you, you may avoid a trial through plea bargaining.
A plea bargain typically involves entering a plea of not guilty or no contest. You may change a not guilty plea to a guilty plea if doing so will allow you to avoid harsher penalties. The penalties you face may be greater if you go to trial.
Pretrial Motions and Hearings
Plea bargaining usually requires negotiating with the prosecution. You could decide to go to trial if the prosecution won’t offer a satisfactory deal.
The judge may then set a date for a criminal court hearing during which you can enter any pretrial motions you have not already entered. The prosecution may decide to offer a better plea bargain deal if the judge grants certain motions.
For example, perhaps you enter a motion to suppress evidence. If the judge grants your motion, the prosecution’s case may become weaker.
According to Chapter 16 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, an examining trial might occur in cases involving felony charges. Both sides may present evidence and call witnesses during an examining trial. The purpose of this “mini-trial” is to determine “the truth of the accusation made.”
Adjudication of guilt doesn’t occur during an examining trial.
A grand jury may decide whether the case against you should move forward if you face felony charges and no examining trial occurs. Under Chapter 21 of the Texas Criminal Code of Procedure, indictment occurs when a grand jury determines the case against you is valid, resulting in formal charges.
Contact a Texas Criminal Court Hearing Lawyer
Having an attorney present during a criminal court hearing and all other stages of the criminal process is important. An attorney may:
- Determine what motions, if any, should be filed in your case
- Speak to both the judge and prosecution on your behalf
- Negotiate with the prosecution for a plea bargain deal
- Identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case
Those are a few examples of what a lawyer can do for you. A Texas criminal court hearing lawyer at the Law Office of Case J. Darwin in San Marcos, TX, can review your case and answer additional questions you may have on this topic. Get started today by calling us or contacting us online for a free case review.