FAQs about criminal defense law in Texas
answered by an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney
Many people who contact our Houston criminal defense law firm have many questions and concerns. If you’ve been charged with a crime, you are likely experiencing a range of emotions - anger, anxiety, and above all, confusion. If you are looking for answers, then you’ve come to the right place.
Each case is unique, which is why you should contact an attorney immediately if you’ve been charged with a criminal offense.
Contact the Neal Davis Law Firm to discuss the details of your case and get quick answers!
While nothing can replace meeting face-to-face with an attorney to explore your legal options, we’re happy to answer some frequently asked questions we regularly receive from clients. Continue reading to see our answers to this list of commonly asked criminal defense law questions:
Q: When should I talk to police?
Never - at least not without your attorney present. Don’t make the mistake of giving a statement to police or investigators by yourself just because you think asking for an attorney will make you look guilty. This is a bad misconception, and many police officers who are themselves charged with a crime immediately hire a defense attorney. If the police are questioning you, it typically means they don’t have enough evidence to arrest you and they are hoping you will make a statement that incriminates yourself.
An attorney represents your best interests by communicating with investigators without saying anything that is admissible in court, while simultaneously seeking any information that can be used to get your charges dropped or lowered. If you choose to talk with police without a lawyer present, then - as the saying goes - anything you say can and will be used against you in court.
The only statement you should ever make to law enforcement when being questioned is: “I would like to speak to my attorney.”
Q: What is an arraignment?
An arraignment is your first appearance in court, regardless of whether or not you have been arrested or taken into custody. During the arraignment, a defendant is formally presented with the charges against him or her and asked what they plead to these charges: guilty, not guilty, no contest or mute plea.
In Texas, the arraignment proceeding is also when a judge determines bail - whether or not the defendant should be detained or released until their trial. If the court chooses to detain the defendant, they must also set a bail amount during this time.
Q: What is bail and how does it work?
Bail is an amount of money, specified by the court, that allows for the conditional release of the arrested defendant from custody. The purpose of bail is to allow temporary freedom to those facing a criminal charge so that they can adequately prepare for their case, while also ensuring they return to court for their trial.
Defendants typically hire bail bond companies to post their bail, and they get their money back after showing up in court (minus a premium for this service of up to 10 percent). If the defendant fails to show up for his or her trial, then the bond company revokes the bond and hires a bounty hunter to find and seize the defendant.
Criminal defense lawyers often work with the court to save their defendant thousands of dollars by lowering the bail amount or getting it waived completely. Attorneys can also negotiate with the bondsmen on their client’s behalf, securing a lower premium rate.
Further reading: THE CRIMINAL DEFENSE GUIDE TO BAIL & BONDS
Q: What is a preliminary hearing?
If you are charged with a felony offense like homicide or another violent crime, one of the first steps will likely be a preliminary hearing. Preliminary hearings, or “prelims,” are pre-trial proceedings where the judge evaluates whether or not there is enough probable cause to justify pursuing a criminal case and, if so, whether the prosecution has sufficient evidence to charge you with the crime.
The standard of proof in a preliminary hearing is much lower than a trial; however, this stage is important because it gives your attorney the chance to examine the case against you and properly build your defense accordingly. During the prelims, your attorney may also dispute evidence, throw out witness testimonies, and identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
Q: How long does it take to get a preliminary hearing?
A preliminary hearing typically takes places shortly after the official charges have been filed against you. The Federal Speedy Trial Act mandates that prelims be held no later than 30 days after the defendant has been arrested; however, defendants have the right to “waive time” - which means delaying prelims until such a time when all the major players in the case are ready. Waiving the right to a speedy trial is typically beneficial for the defense because it allows us more time to prepare.
Q: What is a pretrial conference?
A pretrial conference (or “pretrial motion”) is a legal proceeding that takes place before the actual trial begins and its purpose is to ensure a “fair and expeditious trial.” During the pretrial conference, both parties meet before the judge to determine which evidence and witness testimonies will be admissible in court.
The pretrial conference is also when your defense attorney may discuss a plea bargain with the District Attorney, such as pleading guilty to a lesser crime or downgrading the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. An overwhelming majority of criminal cases never reach the trial phase - most end via a plea bargain during the pretrial conference.
Q: What happens at trial?
If a plea bargain cannot be reached during the pretrial conference, then your trial date will be set. In some cases, it is wiser for a defendant to go to trial than take a plea bargain depending on the specific facts and circumstances surrounding the case. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to determine your best course of action.
The standard stages of trial proceedings are as follows:
- Selecting a jury (in some cases)
- Opening statements
- Prosecution: Presenting the evidence
- Defense: Cross-examining witnesses
- Closing statements
Once both sides have made their case, the jury (or the judge, if no jury has been appointed) deliberates and returns with a verdict: guilty or not guilty. In Texas and a select group of other states, the jury’s verdict must be unanimous in order to convict the defendant. If a unanimous vote cannot be reached, then a mistrial is declared. If a unanimous guilty vote is reached, then sentencing commences.
Q: How long does a criminal case take?
The duration of each criminal case varies according to factors like the complexity of the case, seriousness of the charge, the evidence brought by the prosecution and the wishes of the defendant. On average though, a criminal case can take anywhere from two months to two years.
We know that most people are eager to resolve their case as quickly as possible so they can get on with their lives. However, it is always better to allow your defense attorney sufficient time to prepare your case and examine the evidence so that we deliver the best possible outcome in your case.
Q: Do I need a criminal defense lawyer?
Yes. Regardless of what crime you or a loved one have been charged with - whether it is a felony or misdemeanor - it is imperative that you have an experienced attorney on your side. Not only is appointing an attorney to represent you a fundamental right (as stated by the Miranda Rights that should have been read to you when you were arrested - “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.”), it is in your best interests to hire a lawyer who can skillfully navigate the legal landscape and ensure the best possible outcome for your case.
In addition, your criminal defense attorney will be able to help you understand:
- The details of the charges filed against you
- The best defense strategies for your case
- The likelihood of plea bargains
- What to expect during pre-trial, trial and sentencing
Although a public defender will be appointed to your case if you cannot afford to hire a criminal defense attorney, this does not mean this service is without cost. If the court later determines you financially stable enough to have hired your own attorney, then you will be forced to pay for the public defender’s services.
Also, public defenders often have extremely heavy caseloads, meaning they have less time and resources to devote to your case. This can result in steeper fines, more jail time and a harsher sentence. It is almost always better to hire a private criminal defense attorney rather than have a public defender appointed to your case.
Q: How do I hire a criminal defense attorney?
Choosing a criminal defense lawyer is a major decision. The outcome of your case can hinge heavily on the experience, skill and expertise of the attorney you hire, so it is highly important that you choose the best one. Here are three important steps to follow when looking for a criminal defense attorney to represent you:
Consider. First, determine your legal needs in order to find an attorney who has the proper expertise, background and experience for the job. You should look for criminal defense law firms in your local area who specialize in the specific practice area that pertains to your case. Also, you may want to hire either a state attorney or federal attorney depending on what crime you are being charged with.
Research. Once you understand your legal needs, it’s time to narrow down your options for potential attorneys. The internet is one of the best and easiest resources for finding lawyers near your. Use online legal directories, professional legal organizations and your preferred search engine to locate potential candidates. Also consider asking friends and family for any recommendations.
Interview. Lastly, you’ll want to schedule a consultation with the attorney or attorneys you found that meet all of your criteria. Nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting with the attorney who will be representing you. Most lawyers offer a free initial consultation, during which you can discuss the specific defense strategies available for your case and other important things like cost, experience, background, etc.
Further reading: QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN HIRING A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY
Get Real Help & Quick Answers
from an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer
in Houston, TX
Houston criminal defense attorney Neal Davis has nearly 20 years of experience successfully defending clients in Texas and throughout the country. He has secured hundreds of positive outcomes in high-profile state and federal crime cases, including arguing before the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals and appearing as lead counsel in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case. Before opening his own law firm, Neal worked as a lawyer for more than a decade with Texas criminal defense legend Dick DeGuerin.
If you are being investigated for a crime or have been charged with one, and have questions or concerns about your legal options, contact the Neal Davis Law Firm today. We’re available 24/7 for legal assistance.
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