Criminal Court Settings

Stages of the Criminal Process | Criminal Court Settings | What to Expect in Court

If you are under investigation, the criminal process has already begun. There are the typical stages of a criminal case in Texas.

Stages of Criminal Process in Texas

1. The Criminal Investigation

A criminal investigation may be prompted by a 911 call, an officer’s observations, an informant’s tip, or an allegation. During the course of the investigation, officers will look for evidence of a crime, and investigate possible suspects. A lead detective will be assigned to the case. The lead detective coordinates the investigative efforts and is responsible for directing the investigation. The detective can assign duties to other officers to complete. During the investigative phase, the detective may attempt to get a statement from you. Remember to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney before ever considering giving a statement to the police.

2. The Case is Filed

Once the detective has completed his investigation, he will inform a magistrate through a sworn affidavit as to the reasons he believes an offense has occurred. The magistrate will review the affidavit to see if there is probable cause to believe that an offense occurred. If the magistrate determines there is probable cause to believe an offense has occurred, he will issue a warrant for the suspect’s arrest. After being arrested, the magistrate will inform the accused of the charges against him. This is called the arraignment.

3. The Initial Appearance Setting

In Tarrant County, the first court setting is called the Initial Appearance. This is often held in the magistrate court, but can also be held in the court where the case is filed. The Initial Appearance Setting is important because it allows the court to confirm that you have a lawyer representing you in all of your pending cases.

If you don’t have an attorney by your Initial Appearance, then you have to explain your reasons to the judge and fill out an “Election of Counsel” form. If you request that the court appoint an attorney to you, then you have to prove that you cannot afford one by filling out an “Affidavit of Indigency” form. Then, a hearing may held regarding your ability to pay for legal representation.

Is a court-appointed attorney free?

Most people think that court-appointed attorneys are free. If you are in custody and are unable to bond out, this is most likely true. However, if you are bonded out, this is most likely a misconception. If you get out of jail on bond or pre-trial release, the judge can order that you repay the court for your court-appointed attorney. Additionally, you may be required to pay for your court-appointed attorney as condition of probation, deferred adjudication, or as a condition of a pre-trial diversion program. In other words, when you ask for a court-appointed attorney, you are giving up your right to choose your own attorney, and in all likelihood you will end up paying for an attorney that you did not choose.

4. Indictment

The lead detective will send the case over to the district attorney’s office. Attorneys in the Intake Division will review the cases to determine if the case will be accepted for prosecution. A case is presented when it is filed by an “information” (misdemeanor) or true-billed by a grand jury (felony).

How does the grand jury process work?

Once a case is filed or presented to a court, the case may have any number of settings. In most counties, there are many types of pre-trial settings. Each setting will require different tasks that need to be accomplished.

5. The Consultation Setting

The next setting is called the Consultation Setting. If you have hired an attorney, the Consultation will be scheduled as soon as possible after the return of an indictment. If you have a court-appointed attorney, the Consultation occurs before the indictment is returned.

By the time of the Consultation Setting, the prosecutor should be prepared to make you a plea agreement offer. A plea agreement offer is basically the punishment you would get if you pled guilty to the charges rather than taking it to trial. Your attorney should have reviewed the prosecutor’s file(s) and the plea agreement by this setting because he or she will need to explain the plea agreement offer to you.

If you accept the plea agreement, then you have to fill out the “Written Plea Admonishment Document.” Once you complete that document, you can either go forward with the plea and sentencing, go forward on the plea but hold off on sentencing, or hold off on both the plea and the sentencing. If your case is unindicted and you have reached an agreement but sentencing was not completed at the Consultation Setting, then you have to sign a “Waiver of Indictment and Acceptance of Plea Agreement Offer.”

If you do not accept a plea agreement at the end of the Consultation, then your case will be scheduled for more pre-trial settings and eventually an Evidence Exchange Setting.

6. The Evidence Exchange Setting

The prosecutors must have gathered all of their evidence by the Evidence Exchange Setting and provided it to the defense. The parties must also disclose their evidence in a process called “discovery” by the end of this setting. If a plea agreement is made, a plea proceeding may be scheduled. If no plea agreement is made, then the case will be scheduled for a Motion Setting.

7. The Motions Setting

There are certain circumstances that may prompt your attorney to file motions with the court. For example, if your attorney believes that the procedures used to gather evidence from your case was unconstitutional, they can file a Motion to Suppress the evidence. If they have filed any motions, a hearing will be held on those motions at the Motion Setting. If a plea agreement is reached at this point, then the plea proceeding may be scheduled. If not, then the case will either be set for Trial or for a Status Conference depending on kind of case you have.

8. The Status Conference

At the Status Conference, the parties are again encouraged to negotiate and come to an agreement for a plea. You can plead guilty at the conference regardless of whether the plea was negotiated, but after the conference is over, the court may refuse to take your negotiated guilty plea.

9. The Announcement Setting

If you do not plead guilty at this setting, then you have to fill out a “Status and Trial Management” form along with a few additional forms. After the proper forms are completed, your case will finally be set for trial. This setting is sometimes subsumed in the

10. Trial

If after the pre-trial settings a case is not resolved, it is set for a trial. A person who is accused of committing a crime has the right to a trial by jury in Texas. For misdemeanors, this is a jury of six people. For felonies, it is a jury of twelve people.

In Tarrant County, the following state jail and third-degree offenses are expedited:

  • Burglary of a Building
  • Credit/Debit Card Abuse
  • Criminal Nonsupport
  • Evading with a Vehicle
  • False Alarm or Report
  • Forgery
  • UCW on Licensed Premises
  • Fraudulent Use or Possession of Identifying Information
  • Prostitution – 4th
  • Theft
  • Aggravated Perjury
  • Bail Jumping
  • Escape from a Felony Offense
  • Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle
  • Probation Revocations

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About the Author

Benson Varghese

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Benson Varghese is the Managing Partner of Varghese Summersett PLLC. He is a state and federal practitioner who has handled thousands criminal cases and taken over 100 cases to trial by jury. Benson is frequently called upon to handle cases that require a high degree of knowledge in technology, scientific evidence, forensic evidence, as well as serious intoxication cases. The lawyers at Varghese Summersett PLLC exclusively handle criminal defense matters.