Being charged with a crime can be an overwhelming experience. However, it is an experience you do not have to face alone. An experienced Dallas criminal defense attorney can help you understand the criminal justice system and the serious penalties that may follow any type of crime.
Even prior to the filing of any kind of formal charges, it would be wise to seek the help of a criminal lawyer. In doing so, this could alleviate a lot of stress and confusion. In further hope of helping you cope with the stress of criminal charges or accusations hanging over your head, we will discuss of the information related to defending against criminal charges. Our hope is to empower you with the information you need to choose the correct next steps in your case.
The Dallas Criminal Process
Immediately following an arrest, criminal defendants will be booked where the police will take their photographs and fingerprints. A rap sheet will be prepared at this time. In Dallas, after an arrest, the alleged criminal offender will be held in jail until they appear before a judge.
For misdemeanor offenses, a few things occur while the defendant is still being held in jail. The district attorney (DA) will receive the files regarding the arrest from the officer. If the DA wants to pursue the charges, they will create an official document on behalf of the state of Texas that is presented to the individual who was arrested. After all the information is processed, the case will be assigned randomly to one of the 11 misdemeanor courts in Dallas.
In felony cases, the process is similar to misdemeanors. One of the main differences is that the DA will present the charges to a grand jury. The grand jury then is the deciding force to pursue the charges, not solely the DA. A grand jury panel us composed of 16 to 23 citizens. If the grand jury decides there’s enough evidence to pursue charges, they will issue an indictment. On the other hand, if the evidence is not sufficient, the individual will not be charged. There are 7 felony courts in Dallas County.
When a criminal offender is held in jail after an arrest, it is the judge’s job to essentially determine what to do with them next, regardless of whether formal charges are filed. At this point three options exist for the judge:
- Determine the dollar amount for the bail
- Release the defendant without the need for bail
- Hold the defendant without offering bail
When a judge determines the bail amount, any individual can post the bail on behalf of the criminal offender. The bail is essentially a promise by the offender to appear at any court hearings or trials following the arrest. If the offender appears for their court dates, the bail bond will be returned to them (minus fees). On the other hand, if the defendant does not go to the hearing, they forfeit their right to the money.
In the case where the criminal offender is being officially charged, they not become a “defendant” and are entitled to an initial appearance in court called the “arraignment.” During the arraignment the charges will be explained to the defendant and they will be allowed to make a plea of “guilty/no contest” or “not guilty”. If the defendant already has an attorney at this point, the attorney can already begin to make various requests to help the defendant. At the end of the arraignment, the next court date will be set.
There is a period of time between the arraignment and the actual trial, which is called the pre-trial period. During this time, the status prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney have the chance to discuss the case and make any pre-trial negotiations. If it is determined by the criminal lawyer that a plea deal is in the defendant’s best interest during this time the deal can be made. In many cases a plea deal is the way to go as it avoids a lengthy and costly trial. In other cases, a plea deal might not be worth it for the defendant. During this pre-trial period, many other negotiations and changes to the case may be made such as postponements, rescheduling, continuances, and more.
After the arraignment, the defendant will be informed of their next court date. This next court date could be the final trial or it might be a pre-trial hearing. Even if it’s a pre-trial hearing or appearance, the defendant is required to appear during the scheduled time. If they don’t appear they will lose their bond and a warrant for their arrest will be issued.
It is during these pre-trial hearings that the court will listen to all of the motions presented by the defendant’s lawyer and the prosecutor. It’s during this time that the defendant’s attorney has the best chance to dismiss charges or suppress any evidence. Some of the common pre-trial motions filed on behalf of a defendant include:
- Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause
- Motion to Suppress Illegally Obtained Evidence
- Motion to Strike Prior Convictions
- Motion to Exclude the Defendant’s Confession
- Motion to Exclude an Non-credible Witnesses’ Testimony
The defendant’s case will be set for a trial in these situations:
- The defendant pleaded “not guilty”
- The can hasn’t been dismissed
- The defendant rejected all pre-trial negotiations
There are two types trials that a defendant may choose. The first is a bench trial and the other is a jury trial. Both have their relative pros and cons.
In a bench trial there is no jury and only the judge determines the innocence or guilt of the defendant. Also, after a bench trial, a defendant is not allowed any appeals as that right is waived. This type of trial is usually swifter and less costly for the state. In many cases, the outcome may be slightly more predictable as a judge’s general attitude towards various crimes may be know by the defendant’s attorney.
On the other hand, in a Dallas jury trial, 12 jury members (regular citizens) determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. The results of a jury trial are often less predictable and largely based on the competing oratory skills of the prosecutor versus the defense attorney. In many cases, the jury supports the attorney that is more likeable.
In either type of trial, it is the prosecutor’s job to prove the defendant’s guilt. There is a very high “burden of proof” placed upon the prosecutor because they have to show that every element of the case supports the defendant’s guilty status. If anything is missing, then the guilt of a defendant cannot be proved beyond a “reasonable doubt”.
In a jury trial, 100% of the jurors must unanimously agree that is the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If even one juror doesn’t agree, it’s called a hung jury and a mistrial is declared. The case may be retried if the prosecutor finds another jury that might be able to make a unanimous decision.
If at the end of the trial the defendant is found guilty, the sentencing phase will begin. During sentencing the judge or jury will determine what punishment is befitting the defendant based on their criminal history, the crime in question, and their behavior throughout the trial.
Felony charges occur with more serious offenses such as sexual assault, murder, and embezzlement of large amounts. Even though a misdemeanor crime may not seem as sever as a felony crime, the penalties could still be just as grave. Stiff fines and possible jail time could follow a misdemeanor. Below we describe some of the types of crimes in Dallas that can fall in either the felony or misdemeanor category.
A Dallas DUI or DWI charge can result in misdemeanor penalties, even if it is the first time offense. Allow an experienced and skilled attorney fight for you so you can get the best possible outcome. Another type if alcohol offense is underage drinking, which may seem like a harmless crime, but it could alter ones future drastically making it difficult to find a job or get into the dream college.
Being charged with assault or aggravated assault could penalize you with heavy fine, possible jail time or even prison. Capital murder is no joke in Texas. This kind of crime can result in capital punishment if found guilty. Manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another person, however the defendant is not considered any less responsible. The penalties for this kind of conviction can still be just as harsh as those for murder or even capital murder. If convicted of violent crime, you could be faced with grave consequences. You should only trust your life with an attorney who is serious about defending your rights.
Theft crimes have many variations. It is defined as the intentional seizure of another’s property without their permission. Burglary is a type of theft crime that is defined as any kind of unlawful entry of a home, shop, office, or building in order to steal property and commit a felony. Conviction of burglary can be faced as a second-degree felony charge. This can include a fine up to $10,000 and possibly up to 20 years in prison. Another type of theft crime is robbery, which entails the use of threat or force to take another person’s property. This kind of crime can have penalties up to 99 years in prison and as much as $10,000 in fines. Hire a skilled Dallas criminal defense lawyer who has the experience in dealing with these kinds of crimes fight for your rights.
Drug crimes are not taken lightly in a Texas courtroom. If charged with a drug crime, the penalty will rely heavily the type of drug and the amount found in addition to other circumstances. Drug Possession is one of the most common drug offenses that one can be charged with. This kind of conviction could face fines up to $2000 and 180 days in jail.
Those accused of rape in the Texas criminal justice system can result in felony penalties such as life in prison. Sexual assault is any kind of undesired physical contact or verbal comment. These charges can result in grave penalties. Rape is the most severe sexual assault crime and the criminal justice system is harsh and unforgiving of those accused of this crime.
Have you embezzled some money? Maybe misused some funds? Accepted bribes? All of these crimes are what is considered white-collar crimes. Fraud is another type of white collar crimes and it involves intentionally deceiving or misleading of another to better your situation. Fraud crimes could face felony penalties.
Clearing your criminal record or sealing it away could mean a brighter future and better life. One thing to note is that felonies cannot be expunged.
Violating the terms of your probation can result in full punishment if caught. You need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend against these often minor seeming offenses.
Thinking a Dallas Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help? Get a Free Case Evaluation
With the serious consequences associated with being convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime, it is clear that you cannot afford to not hire an attorney. The secondary consequences (inability to find a job loss of constitutional freedoms) can often be more costly than the price of any attorney.