Steps of a Criminal Trial in Texas
The criminal process can be an extremely grueling and stressful time for any alleged offender. While some cases can be resolved relatively quickly, many others can take several months or even years to reach a resolution if they go to trial.
A person who is under investigation has a warrant issued for his or her arrest, or has been arrested in Texas needs to know what to expect if his or her case goes to trial. It is important to obtain legal representation as soon as possible when you know that you are facing criminal charges.
Criminal Trial Lawyer in Houston, TX
Courts in Texas will appoint public defenders for people who do not have an attorney, but these legal professionals often have huge caseloads with insufficient time to thoroughly investigate the cases of the people they are representing. Matt Horak works tirelessly for his clients at every stage of a criminal process before and after a trial, from the moment they are accused of a criminal offense to post-trial motions.
Horak Law represents alleged offenders throughout the Houston area, including Richmond-Rosenberg, The Woodlands, League City, Pearland, Sugar Land, Pasadena, Galveston, Missouri City, Spring, and Conroe. You can call our firm at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 to receive a complete evaluation of your case during a free, confidential consultation.
Harris County Criminal Trial Information Center
- What happens before a trial?
- What happens during a trial?
- Are there any options after a trial concludes?
After a person has been arrested and criminal charges have been appropriately filed, there are a few stages that occur before the case goes to trial:
- Arraignment — This is the first court appearance for the alleged offender, typically occurring within 72 hours of the arrest. During this appearance, the alleged offender is notified of the charges against him or her and the possible range of punishment. The court also determines whether the alleged offender needs a court-appointed public defender or has legal counsel. The alleged offender enters his or her initial plea, which is generally “not guilty.” After refusing to plead guilty, the judge determines the bail amount for the alleged offender and schedules dates for pretrial motions and hearings.
- Plea Bargaining — This is an optional step, but a prosecutor and a defense lawyer will generally try to negotiate some sort of deal. Plea bargaining may begin as soon as the arraignment and can continue all the way up to a trial verdict.
- Pre-Trial Hearing — This hearing is used to determine the legal merits of the case as a judge will not decide whether an alleged offender is guilty or not guilty, but whether the alleged offender should stand trial. During this hearing, the judge is essentially deciding whether the prosecution has proven that the case satisfies the standard of probable cause.
- Pre-Trial Motions — There are a wide variety of motions that a criminal defense attorney can file on behalf of the alleged offender, including:
- Motion for Appointment of Interpreter
- Motions for Change of Venue
- Motion for Continuance
- Motion of Discovery
- Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause
- Motion to Exclude Non-credible Witnesses’ Testimony
- Motion to Exclude the Defendant’s Confession
- Motion to Strike Prior Convictions
- Motion to Suppress Evidence
There are several benefits to having an attorney represent you during this stage of the criminal process, including:
- Motions in Limine — “In limine” is Latin for “on the threshold or at the start,” and these motions ask the court to rule on the admissibility of evidence prior to trial. These may be filed between pre-trial hearings or during the trial.
- Selection of Jury — Potential jurors are summoned and screened to determine whether they are qualified for the case. During voir dire examination, lawyers ask jurors questions to determine any possible bias or prejudice.
- Commencement of Trial — The jury is empanelled, given their oath, and the judge gives preliminary instructions.
- Opening Statements — Both the prosecution and the defense deliver their opening statements, with prosecution going first as the party that has the burden of proof.
- Prosecution Presents Case — The prosecution will present evidence that can include testimonial (oral testimony by prosecution witnesses), demonstrative (pictures, maps, or charts), and/or documentary evidence (written materials such as business records or contracts). After the direct examination of prosecution witnesses, the defense cross-examines prosecution witnesses. The prosecution is then allowed to redirect, or re-examine their witnesses. After the prosecution has finished presenting its case, the prosecution rests their case.
- Defense Motion to Dismiss — This is an optional step that is rarely used, but the defense may file this motion if, for example, the prosecution has failed to present evidence that proves the alleged offender’s guilt or a prosecution witness lied under oath.
- Defense Presents Main Case — This is when it is the defense attorney’s turn to present testimonial, demonstrative, and/or documentary evidence. The prosecution is allowed to cross-examine any defense witnesses following direct examination, and the defense can then redirect. When the case has been presented, the defense rests their case.
- Prosecution Rebuttal — The prosecution gets one last chance to argue to the jury that credible evidence has been presented supporting a guilty verdict.
- Prosecution, Defense, And Judge Settle On Jury Instructions — The judge finalizes the charge, with the prosecution and defense allowed to raise any objections.
- Jury Instructions — The judge provides the final specific instructions to the jury.
- Closing Arguments — Again, both the prosecution and the defense deliver closing arguments, with prosecution going first as the party that has the burden of proof. The prosecution is also allowed a rebuttal after the defense closing argument.
- Jury Deliberations — The jury retires to the jury room in which the jury charge and written evidence have been placed for use during deliberations. The jury appoints a foreperson who again reads the charge to the jury before they deliberate in secret. After deliberations are complete, the jury returns a verdict and the jury is discharged.
- Verdict — The verdict is the written declaration by the jury of its decision of the issue submitted to it. If the jury returns a not guilty verdict, the alleged offender is immediately freed from custody. All verdicts of guilty in Texas felony cases must be unanimous, but a guilty verdict may be delivered in a misdemeanor case by as few as nine jury members. If the jury reaches a guilty verdict, the alleged offender is taken into custody. There are numerous post-trial motions that may be filed by the defense if a guilty verdict is reached, including Motions for New Trial.
- Sentencing — Before the trial, the alleged offender elects whether to have his or her potential punishment determined by the judge or the jury. The sentencing hearing usually occurs immediately after the conviction.
A guilty verdict in a jury trial is by no means the final word in an alleged offender’s case. Two very common options after an unfavorable outcome include:
- Appeal — If the alleged offender disagrees with the verdict, he or she can appeal the ruling to the next highest Texas court. District or county court cases can be appealed to the First or Fourteenth Court of Appeals of Texas, and appeals of a ruling from those courts go to the Texas the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA).
- Writ of Habeas Corpus — One of the primary forms of post-conviction relief, this may be filed if an alleged offender’s trial involved miscalculation of parole eligibility, an unconstitutional sentence (such as sentences exceeding statutory maximums), ex post facto violations, or the conviction was obtained in violation of due process rights.
Horak Law | Criminal Defense Lawyer in Houston
Horak Law represents clients all over Houston and surrounding areas. We provide aggressive criminal defense for alleged offenders in Waller County, Galveston County, Fort Bend County, Liberty County, Harris County, Brazoria County, and Montgomery County.
Matt Horak is a criminal trial attorney in Houston, TX committed to securing the most favorable outcome to every case he handles. Call him right now at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 to have him review your case during a free legal consultation.