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What Happens if I Go to Trial?
- How is a case processed in the District Attorney's Office?
- Does the judge appoint investigators for the defense in criminal cases?
- What is a grand jury?
- What does a grand jury do?
- What should I wear to Court?
- What is an examining trial?
- What is a pretrial hearing?
- Why do some cases get dismissed?
- Is it better to accept a plea bargain or go to trial?
- What happens at trial?
- Can a defendant appeal his conviction to a higher court?
If a defendant is sentenced to prison who decides if he will be paroled?
1. How is a case processed in the District Attorney's Office?
After a felony case is referred to the District Attorney’s office, it is presented to a grand jury. If the grand jury indicts the case it is then assigned to an assistant criminal district attorney and an investigator in the District Attorney’s office who will handle the case in district court. After a misdemeanor case is referred to the District Attorney’s office it is immediately assigned to an assistant criminal district attorney who will handle the case in a county court at law.
2. Does the judge appoint investigators for the defense in criminal cases?
In some cases, private investigators assist defense attorneys in case preparation. If the defendant is indigent, the judge may appoint an attorney and an investigator to aid the defendant. However, in no case will the investigator be working for the judge; he will report his investigation to the defense attorney.
3. What is a grand jury?
A grand jury is a body of twelve citizens who consider whether indictments should be returned in felony cases. Grand jurors are nominated by Grand Jury Commissioners appointed by a district judge. The district attorney has no control over the selection process. In addition, a grand jury can be selected randomly from the voter registration rolls of the county in the same manner that trial juries are selected. Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public, and witnesses take an oath of secrecy before testifying.
4. What does a grand jury do?
Unless a defendant waives an indictment, Texas law requires action by the grand jury before a felony case can be filed in district court. If the grand jury believes that there is sufficient evidence to prove that a person has committed a felony, it votes to issue an indictment. At least nine grand jurors must vote in favor of an indictment, or the case is "no-billed," which ends the case. The district attorney assists the grand jury in hearing evidence and preparing indictments, but the actual deliberations on cases are secret and only the grand jurors are present when voting is in progress.
5. What should I wear to Court?
Please dress neatly and conservatively when making an appearance in court. Your manner of dress can have an impact upon jurors who listen to your testimony and who may be called upon to determine facts.
6. What is an examining trial?
An examining trial is a hearing before a judge to determine whether probable cause exists to send a felony case on to the grand jury. In Texas, an examining trial is not held unless demanded by the defendant. Once the grand jury has returned an indictment, the defendant loses the right to an examining trial.
7. What is a pretrial hearing?
After a felony case has been considered by a grand jury and an indictment returned, the case will be scheduled for a pretrial hearing. At the pretrial hearing the defendant and his attorney usually advise the judge whether the defendant wants a trial or will plead guilty, and if a trial is desired, whether a jury is required. Certain motions concerning legal issues may be heard at a pretrial hearing.
8. Why do some cases get dismissed?
If the assistant criminal district attorney handling a case determines that there is not enough evidence to obtain a conviction, he may file a motion with the judge asking that the case be dismissed. This action is taken only after the case has been completely investigated, and normally after the police have exhausted all avenues for obtaining additional evidence. The judge may grant the motion to dismiss if he or she is satisfied that the case cannot be proven in a trial.
9. Is it better to accept a plea bargain or go to trial?
Most cases in which criminal charges are filed can be resolved through skillful negotiation and without the necessity of trial. Negotiations can result in a wide variety of outcomes, ranging from a dismissal of charges to a plea bargain agreement involving incarceration. Of course, the choice of whether to accept a “plea bargain” must be made by the accused and should be made only after investigating the facts of the case and studying the available alternatives as well as the terms of the plea bargain offer. A plea bargain is an agreement between the attorney representing the State and the defendant and his attorney that the State will recommend a specific punishment in the case, if the defendant will enter a plea of guilty. The agreement as to punishment is not binding upon the judge, who may impose any punishment within the range authorized by law.
Although most cases are resolved without trial, sometimes trial presents a more attractive option. Therefore, it is important to keep the trial option open and to be represented by an attorney who is both willing and able to represent you at trial.
10. What happens at trial?
In a trial, the criminal district attorney presents the case for the State, attempting to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime as charged. The defendant may present his or her side of the case, or may present no case at all. The jury (if one has been impaneled) or the judge must decide whether the State's case has been proved by legally-sufficient evidence. If the defendant is found guilty, our law provides for a second stage of trial at which the defendant's punishment, within the range authorized by law, is fixed by either the jury or a judge. The defendant is permitted to determine whether he wants his punishment set by the judge or a jury.
11. Can a defendant appeal his conviction to a higher court?
A defendant can appeal his conviction to an appellate court in hopes of having his conviction reversed. An appellate court reviews only the typed record of what happened in the trial court. Witnesses do not appear and testify at the appellate level. In many instances a defendant may remain free on bond while the appeal is pending.
12. If a defendant is sentenced to prison who decides if he will be paroled?
The Pardon and Paroles Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice makes this decision.
Scott Palmer was recently mentioned in “D” Magazine as “One of the Best Lawyers Under 40” in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Scott is very proud of this honor because it is the result of a poll of other Dallas attorneys, many of whom have become aware of his expertise in the local Courtrooms. “We fight hard for our clients every day! We often take…and win… cases other lawyers won’t touch.”
Whether you are accused of committing a federal or state crime such as DWI, assault, selling drugs, theft or sexual offenses, Scott Palmer will be a strong partner, making sure you receive all of the protection your Constitutional rights provide under the law. We will guide you through the court procedures, explain the available choices and give you our best advice…and then we will vigorously defend your case. Check Texas Penal Code for information about various offenses.
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