The Arrest and Trial Process in Texas

Harris County Arrest Process

If you have never been charged with a crime or arrested before, you may find this overview of the arrest process in Texas state court helpful. I explain what happens after arrest, such as court hearings and jury trials.

Pre-Trial Process

If you are arrested in Texas, you must be brought before a magistrate (a judge) within 48 hours. The magistrate will advise you of certain rights. You may post bond before you go before a magistrate. The magistrate will set the amount of bond, in almost all cases, or determine whether you are eligible for a personal recognizance bond. If you cannot post the full amount of the bond, a bail bondsman will enter into an agreement with you to post the full amount if you pay them a certain percentage, typically 10%, of the total bond.

Once you make bond, you will be given a date, time, and location to appear for your first court hearing. At this initial hearing, the judge may want to hear the prosecutor read probable cause on your case. The judge may want to provide your legal warnings to you. This does not require you to speak, and it is typically in your best interest not to speak. The prosecutor and/or judge may place certain conditions on your bond such as an ankle monitor, an order preventing you from contacting a victim or from leaving the County, and other conditions depending on the nature of your case.

Trial Process

Your first hearing may not involve any of these procedures. However, the court will be interested to know whether you are hiring a lawyer or requesting a court-appointed lawyer if you have not already hired a lawyer.

A common misconception is that you will have a trial on your first court date. Your case will be reset on the first date and your lawyer will have the opportunity to review discovery. Following the overturning of a wrongful conviction against a man named Michael Morton, the Texas Legislature enacted the Michael Morton Act. If you have an experienced and hardworking criminal defense lawyer, he is certain to take advantage of this law to request all relevant discovery on your case. This can include such things as police reports, video, statements, 911 calls, pictures, documents, and other things.

Typically, it takes several months or weeks for the prosecutors to comply with their obligations to provide discovery under the Michael Morton Act. Your case may be reset several times to permit your criminal defense lawyer and the prosecutor to work on the case. A hardworking criminal defense lawyer will review the evidence provided by the prosecution, as well as gather evidence favorable to the defense in order to prepare your case. During this phase, the goal of your criminal defense lawyer will be to persuade the prosecutor to dismiss the case if possible.

If your case does not result in a dismissal or a plea deal, your case will be set for trial. If you are charged with a felony, a grand jury consisting of citizens from your community will first determine whether probable cause exists in your case. This requirement provides a criminal defense lawyer the opportunity to persuade a grand jury that probable cause does not exist in your case by presenting a packet of information, evidence, and witness testimony to the grand jurors. Your case may be one where this is a useful strategy. In the event that the grand jury determines no probable cause exists, your case will be no-billed, which is a dismissal. In the event that the grand jury determines probable cause does exist, your case will proceed to trial.

A trial in Texas consists of two phases:

  1. the guilt-innocence phase
  2. the sentencing phase

If you prevail in the first phase and a jury or judge acquits you of the charges with a verdict of not guilty, there will of course not be a punishment phase to the trial.

Will I Have a Jury Trial?

You do not have to try your case to a jury. You can instead decide to try your case to a judge. Additionally, Texas is unique in that it is one of the few states where you may have a jury instead of a judge decide punishment.

In misdemeanor cases, a jury consists of six citizens from the county. In felony court, a jury is made up of twelve citizens.

To help you navigate the process of arrest, court proceedings, and trial, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. Nathaniel Pitoniak focuses his practice exclusively on criminal defense. He began his career as a prosecutor in Harris County, Texas and has extensive jury trial experience.

1.Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 15.17.
2.Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 39.14

Keys to A Proper Drug Defense

When someone is charged with possession of illegal drugs, they often ask what the best criminal defense strategies or defense lawyer tactics are.

Defenses for Drug Cases

A criminal defense lawyer in Houston may use several strategies to try to defeat a drug case. The manner in which the drugs were seized may be attacked. For example, if the drugs were seized in a car, the cops need to have had reasonable suspicion to believe you had committed a crime in order to pull you over. Beyond this, they may have needed probable cause to search your vehicle in some circumstances. In contrast, if the drugs were seized in your house, the validity of the search warrant will sometimes determine the admissibility of the illegal drugs.

If your constitutional rights were violated during the course of seizing the drugs, the evidence may not be admitted into evidence following a successful motion to suppress evidence. In other words, evidence seized in violation of your constitutional rights may not be used against you and the case may be dismissed. This is a principle underpinning criminal law.

Beyond this, whether or not you were actually in possession of illegal drugs turns on whether you exercised care, custody, or control over them. In many cases, the police cannot establish affirmative links between the seized controlled substance and the person accused of possessing them.

As explained elsewhere on this site, the type of drugs allegedly possessed as well as the amount of drugs and any prior criminal history will impact the potential punishment range for drug charges.

Criminal Defense Lawyers and Drug Crimes

As criminal defense lawyers in Houston know, under certain circumstances, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office offers pre-trial intervention for possession of certain controlled substances, which is a deal where you can avoid a conviction and have your case dismissed if you enter into a contract agreeing to do certain things and refrain from doing others.

Sometimes, a case may be dismissed because the “drug” is not actually a drug. Nathaniel Pitoniak has obtained a dismissal for possession of cocaine where, despite the substance field testing positive for cocaine when the police tested it at the scene of the arrest, laboratory results revealed the alleged cocaine was not actually cocaine.

Nathaniel Pitoniak has been hired by the parents or other loved ones of people charged with drug crimes. Beyond the direct consequences associated with a criminal arrest, Nathaniel Pitoniak strives to provide effective guidance to those afflicted with substance abuse issues. The ultimate consequence of illegal drug use, especially in the case of heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, may be death. Obtaining the proper treatment in conjunction with defending criminal defense charges can make a huge impact on a person’s chances of survival.

Criminal Law 101: The Basics

Criminal law is a body of law that defines all federal and state crimes and their related consequences. If you’ve ever wondered what all encompasses criminal law, here are the basics of what you should know about it:

Types of Crimes

There are two categories of crimes: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that are considered “less serious” than a felony. They are minor crimes that may be punishable by a fine and/or short-term incarceration. In most states, they are usually ranked by three different classes, depending on the nature of the crime; Class A misdemeanors are usually ranked as the most severe of misdemeanors, while Class C misdemeanors are the least serious. Some examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Petty theft
  • Criminal trespass
  • Vandalism
  • Reckless damage/destruction

Felonies, on the other hand, are considered more serious crimes in the eyes of the law. As a result, they may be punishable by more serious consequences, such as longer incarceration times. Like misdemeanors, felonies are categorized by degrees, ranging from the first through fourth degree. Examples of felonies include:

Consequences of Crimes

The types of consequences you may see from a crime will depend on the nature of the crime, including the people involved and the alleged crime itself. Both state and federal laws outline the range of punishments possible depending on these factors. These consequences may include:

  • Fines – Fines are fees that are assigned to a guilty party, in which the individual is expected to pay back over a period of time. The more serious the crime, the more likely these fees increase.
  • Incarceration – Incarceration involves time in jail or prison. The length of a jail or prison sentence depends on the nature of the crime.
  • Probation – Probation is a type of punishment that is issued in lieu of jail time. If a criminal is able to follow a strict set of guidelines, such as not committing additional crimes, or staying within a certain region, then he or she may be able to avoid incarceration.
  • Alternative Sentences – These are all punishments that do not usually involve jail time, and are usually for misdemeanor crimes. Some examples of alternative sentences include community service or drug/alcohol rehabilitation programs.

If you have been accused of a misdemeanor or felony crime, and are at risk of seeing such consequences as a result, give Nathanial Pitoniak a call for a free consultation. He is an experienced criminal defense lawyer who specializes in a large range of crimes. He will be able to help you find the right, strategic defense for your case.