Your Dallas Criminal Case: The Basics
It started out as a great night. You went to see a new band in Deep Ellum, and, because your wife was the designated driver, had a few more martinis than you planned. On your way out of the club, you bump into a police officer. Rather than just say you're sorry, your liquid courage makes you a little mouthy. Next thing you know, you are being arrested for disorderly conduct. You've never even gotten a speeding ticket! What happens now? Here is some information for what to expect when dealing with your criminal case in Dallas.
You Have The Right To Remain Silent
If you are taken into custody, and under interrogation, you should be advised of your "Miranda" rights. If the police do not provide this information, your statements will likely be presumed to be involuntary and cannot be used against you. You've heard the Miranda spiel before. Essentially:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you do say can be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to consult an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will appointed for you.
Note, though, that police do not have to issue a Miranda warning until you are in custody and under interrogation. Therefore, a traffic stop or general questioning on the street is likely fair game.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court held that if a suspect is voluntarily talking to the police and then stops, he must affirmatively claim his right to silence. If he doesn't, that silence can be used against him at trial. The take away here is this: provide ID when asked, be cooperative and polite, but verbally invoke your right to silence and ask for a lawyer.
Booking and Bail
Generally after arrest you will be processed or "booked." During this process the police will collect your information and place you in a holding cell or local jail.
Your next concern will be getting out. You can be released on your own recognizance or by way of bail. A release on your own recognizance means that you give your word to appear in all court proceedings. Posting bail is the same promise, but made with money.
How Serious Is the Crime?
According to the Texas Penal Code, criminal offenses are generally designated as either misdemeanors or felonies. In general, a misdemeanor is a less serious offense for which the punishment is less severe. In Texas, for example, the most serious type of misdemeanor (Class A) is punishable by a fine not to exceed $4000, jail for up to one year, or both. Delivery of drug paraphernalia is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas.
A felony is a more serious offense for which the punishment is more severe. In Texas, for example, a serious type of felony (First Degree) can be punishable by 5-99 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000. Possession of 200-399 grams of heroin is a First Degree felony in Texas.
The next step depends on whether you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony. Generally, with a misdemeanor, the case is assigned to a prosecutor in the District Attorney's office for handling in the county court. With a felony, the District Attorney first presents the case to a grand jury which decides whether or not to issue an indictment.
One of your first court appearances will likely be the arraignment. In Dallas, as in the rest of the state, an arraignment is had in all felony cases after indictment and in all misdemeanor cases punishable by imprisonment. At this hearing you will appear before a judge who will officially read the charges against you. You will enter your plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest) at this time and will be advised of upcoming hearings.
Depending on your case and your plea, you may have additional court appearances. It is also possible that your case could be dismissed, the charges could be dropped, or you could enter a plea bargain. Most cases do not proceed to trial. According to the Texas Office of Court Administration, in 2012, in the county-level courts, less than 2% of all criminal cases went to trial.
If you are involved in a criminal matter in Dallas County, you will most likely be dealing with the Dallas Police Department, the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, or the Texas Department of Public Safety – Highway Patrol Division.
Prosecutors on your case will hail from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office and if you can't afford a private attorney, you will be in contact with the public defender's office.
Dealing with criminal charges can be complicated and emotionally charged. You should seriously consider finding an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent your interests. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be able to have one appointed for you.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.