Texas Criminal Justice Process

The Texas Criminal Justice Process can be an intimidating and confusing process. Lawyers go to law school for years to study the rules and procedures of the Texas criminal justice system. The State Bar of Texas has prepared an online “Citizen’s Guide” to the Texas Criminal Justice Process. The online guide can be found here (PDF).

The State Bar’s online guide is a helpful resource for anyone going through the criminal justice system and covers the following topics:

How are the criminal laws classified?

In Texas, criminal laws are classified into two main categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are more serious offenses that can result in imprisonment in a state jail or penitentiary, while misdemeanors are less severe offenses usually punishable by fines, probation, community service, or short-term jail sentences in a local or county jail.

What happens after a crime is committed?

After a crime is committed, law enforcement authorities are responsible for investigating the incident. This process can include gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and identifying suspects. Once sufficient evidence is collected, the case may be forwarded to the district attorney’s office for further action. The district attorney then decides whether to file formal charges against the suspect.

What are the rights of crime victims?

Crime victims in Texas have several rights, including the right to be informed about court proceedings, the right to protection from the accused, the right to be present at all public court proceedings, and the right to restitution. Victims also have the right to submit a victim impact statement that describes the effects of the crime on their lives, which can be considered during sentencing.

Under what circumstances is an arrest made?

An arrest is typically made when law enforcement officers have probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime. Probable cause can be established through evidence, witness statements, or the officer’s own observations. An arrest can also occur if a warrant has been issued by a judge based on sworn statements or evidence presented by law enforcement.

What are the rights of the person arrested?

Individuals who are arrested have several rights, including the right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination, the right to an attorney, the right to be informed of the charges against them, and the right to a fair and speedy trial. Additionally, they have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and any evidence obtained unlawfully may be excluded from trial.

How is a criminal prosecution initiated?

A criminal prosecution is initiated when the district attorney files formal charges against the accused. This can happen through an indictment by a grand jury for felony cases or through an information or complaint for misdemeanor cases. The accused will then be summoned to appear in court for arraignment, where they will enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

What are the procedures before trial?

Before a trial, several pre-trial procedures take place. These include arraignment, discovery (exchange of evidence between the prosecution and defense), pre-trial motions (requests for the court to make rulings on specific issues), plea bargaining (negotiations for a possible plea deal), and pre-trial hearings to address any legal or procedural issues that may arise.

How are criminal cases resolved?

Criminal cases can be resolved in several ways: through a plea bargain, where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge or receive a reduced sentence; through a trial, where a judge or jury determines the defendant’s guilt or innocence; or through dismissal of charges if there is insufficient evidence or other legal issues.

What are the places of confinement?

In Texas, places of confinement include county jails for individuals serving short-term sentences or awaiting trial, state jails for certain low-level felony offenders, and state prisons for those convicted of more serious crimes and serving longer sentences. There are also federal prisons for individuals convicted of federal offenses.

What is community supervision?

Community supervision, also known as probation, is an alternative to incarceration. Offenders are allowed to remain in the community under the supervision of a probation officer, provided they comply with certain conditions such as regular check-ins, employment, attending counseling, and avoiding criminal activity.

What is an appeal?

An appeal is a legal process in which a convicted person asks a higher court to review the decision of the lower court. The appellant seeks to have the conviction overturned or the sentence reduced based on claims of legal errors that occurred during the trial. Appeals focus on legal arguments rather than factual disputes.

What is parole?

Parole is the early release of a prisoner before their sentence is completed. Parolees must comply with specific conditions and are supervised by a parole officer. Failure to adhere to these conditions can result in a return to prison. Parole eligibility and decisions are made by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Are juveniles treated differently?

Yes, juveniles are treated differently in the Texas criminal justice system. Juvenile cases are typically handled in separate courts and focus more on rehabilitation than punishment. The juvenile justice system aims to provide education, counseling, and support services to help young offenders avoid future criminal behavior.

Are court proceedings open to the public?

Most court proceedings in Texas are open to the public, ensuring transparency and accountability in the judicial process. However, there are exceptions, such as juvenile cases, certain family law matters, and cases involving sensitive information where the court may decide to close proceedings to protect privacy or security.

What courts handle criminal cases?

In Texas, criminal cases are handled by different courts depending on the severity of the offense. Municipal and justice courts handle minor offenses and misdemeanors. County courts handle more serious misdemeanors. District courts have jurisdiction over felonies. Appeals are heard by appellate courts, including the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest court for criminal cases.

What is the Crime Victim’s Compensation Act?

The Crime Victim’s Compensation Act provides financial assistance to victims of violent crimes. It covers expenses such as medical bills, counseling, lost wages, and funeral costs. The program is funded by court fees and is designed to help victims recover from the financial impact of crime.

The Texas Criminal Justice Process involves numerous steps and legal considerations. Understanding these can help individuals navigate the system more effectively and ensure their rights are protected throughout the process. The State Bar’s online “Citizen’s Guide” is a valuable resource for further information and guidance.