The court process of a criminal case often depends on the nature of the charges against you, what the prosecutor wishes to do, the presence or absence of critical evidence, and more. In general, criminal cases follow this timeline:
- Pretrial bargaining
- Courtroom arguments
- Deliberation and sentencing
Discovery is the legal term for when the prosecution and defense attorneys exchange information. For example, your lawyer can ask to look at documents, tests, and testimony already collected by the prosecution. Depending on your situation, a defense attorney can also build your case with:
- Photos or video footage of your actions at the time of the alleged crime
- Testimony from individuals who witnessed the alleged crime
- Character witnesses who know the type of person you are
- Police reports and other official materials
As TX Penal Code § 2.01 makes clear, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, not the defendant. This standard means that the court presumes your innocence until the prosecutor convinces a jury otherwise. To prevent this conclusion, your lawyer will use discovery to build the strongest possible defense.
Not all criminal cases go to court. Sometimes, the prosecutor saves time and money by offering a plea deal. Other times, the defense attorney finds such strong evidence in their client’s favor that a judge agrees to dismiss the case. For these reasons, pretrial bargaining is a common and crucial part of the court process.
Depending on what they found during discovery, your attorney might:
- Ask for a dismissal: For instance, if the authorities violated your rights at any point in the investigation, they may no longer have a legal right to pursue charges against you. If the judge agrees, you can go home immediately.
- Ask for a charge reduction: For instance, the prosecutor might reduce the charges against you from a felony to a misdemeanor. Even if a jury subsequently convicts you, misdemeanor penalties are less severe than felony penalties, so the effect on your life will not be as debilitating.
- Negotiate a plea deal: By accepting a plea, you agree to plead guilty to a reduced charge. This agreement can protect you from the most serious penalties and enable you to return to your everyday life sooner.
If negotiations fall through or do not offer a viable option in your case, an attorney can begin trial preparations. These involve scheduling trial dates, submitting evidence to the court, selecting a jury, and more.
Once the trial begins, your attorney will:
- Present opening and closing statements
- Question witnesses who your lawyer has selected to testify in your defense
- Cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, trying to undermine their credibility
- Object to any irrelevant questions or inadmissible evidence introduced by the prosecution
- File motions, briefs, and other necessary paperwork
Deliberation and Sentencing
Once the trial ends, the jury will take its time to consider everything members have seen and heard. Then, they will usually hand down a verdict of guilty or not guilty. This process may take as little as a few hours or stretch out over several days.
If the jury finds you not guilty of all charges, you can go home without further incident. However, if it finds you guilty of any charge, the judge will decide your punishment based on:
- Applicable sentencing guidelines
- Your previous convictions
- Your age
- The nature, severity, and consequences of the crime
The penalties you could face include:
- Jail or prison time
- Fines, fees, or restitution
- Supervised probation
- Community service
- The revocation of certain rights, such as the right to vote or hold a government job
A guilty verdict does not necessarily mean the end of the road. Your lawyer could file an appeal for a new trial on several grounds, such as suspected improper behavior on the prosecution’s part. Your case would then be heard by the applicable Court of Appeals, as explained by the Texas Judicial Branch. There are several levels of appeals that your case may go through.
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How Long Does the Court Process Take?
The length of time the legal process takes from discovery to sentencing or appeal is difficult to predict. Every case is unique. So is every prosecutor. A defense lawyer can provide you with a rough estimate of how long you can expect your case to last after consulting with you about its specifics.
It is also important to note that most cases do not go to trial. Instead, they are resolved at the bargaining stage. A defense attorney can represent you throughout the entire legal process and ensure you receive fair treatment.
We Can Represent You in Court
The team at the Law Offices of Randall B. Isenberg does not shy away from going to court on our clients’ behalf. Call our office at (214) 696-9253 for a free consultation today. We can guide you through the court process of a criminal case and fight to resolve your case out of court so you can go home sooner.