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The Judicial Process

How does a criminal case start?

After a person is arrested, the police agency that made the arrest will submit the charges to the prosecutor's office (either the County Attorney's office or the District Attorney's office, depending on which county you are in and the level of the offense).  The intake department for the prosecutor will review the case and decide whether to file the criminal case.  If they decide to file the case, the person will be formally charged by either an "information" in a misdemeanor case, or an "indictment" in a felony case.

What is an information or an indictment?

An information is the document that officially accuses a person of a misdemeanor crime in Texas.  It is a document that the prosecutor files with the court, informing the defendant of the charges against him.  An information must be signed by a prosecutor and be supported by a sworn complaint.

An indictment is the document that officially accuses a person of a felony crime in Texas.  An indictment must be presented to a grand jury.  The grand jury consists of twelve people.  The prosecutor must convince at least nine of the grand jurors that probable cause exists that the defendant is guilty.  If the grand jury decides there is probable cause, then they return a "true-bill" and the case can proceed.  If the prosecutor fails to persuade at least nine grand jurors that there is probable cause, then they return a "no-bill" and the case cannot proceed.  However, if the grand jury returns a no-bill, the prosecutor can resubmit the case to another grand jury.

What happens after I am charged?

Once a case has been charged, the defense needs to decide how to proceed.  There are several different options, but they all start out the same way.  The prosecutors will provide "discovery" to the defense attorney.  Discovery is essentially all the evidence they have in the case.  It is important to review the discovery with an experienced attorney, discuss strengths and weaknesses in the prosecution's case, the risks and benefits of going to trial, and the availability of other options such as plea bargains, conditional dismissals, and pretrial diversion programs.  It is important for you to completely understand all your options and the risks associated with each one so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed.

The specifics vary from court to court, but you will typically have 3-4 court settings where the prosecutors and your attorney share information and negotiate back and forth.  If the case is not resolved after these settings, the court will require the case to be set for either a plea bargain or a trial.  Depending on the nature of the case, there may also be additional hearings to resolve disputes over bond conditions, evidence suppression, or other legal matters.

 

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