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