You were glad your son had stayed local and enrolled at Lamar University, but you hadn't actually seen much of him since he started dating his new girlfriend. You missed him and were hoping that he would come by the house this weekend to do laundry so you could catch up. When your phone started ringing, you thought it might be him, but the number wasn't one you recognized. When you picked up you couldn't believe your ears. Your son had been arrested? Your heart started racing.
What happens now? What should you expect? Here is some basic information we've compiled to help you navigate when you or a loved one is involved in a criminal case in Beaumont or Jefferson County.
The first folks typically encountered in a Beaumont criminal case are law enforcement officers from the Beaumont Police Department, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, or perhaps the Texas Highway Patrol.
The case will probably be heard in the Jefferson County Courthouse at 1149 Pearl Street in either the County Court (if charged with a misdemeanor) or the District Court (if charged with a felony). However, in the case of a minor misdemeanor, the case may be venued at one of the Municipal Courts. FindLaw has compiled a list of Beaumont Courthouses, which may be helpful.
The Jefferson County District Attorney's Office will typically prosecute the case, and time may be spent at the Correctional Facility operated by the Sheriff's Office or at one of the facilities overseen by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
How Are Crimes Classified?
Under the Texas Penal Code, criminal offenses are designated as "felonies" or "misdemeanors."
Felonies are the more serious crimes with more severe penalties attached. They are subdivided into 5 categories in descending order of seriousness: capital, first degree, second degree, third degree, and state jail. The penalties vary depending on classification. For example, a first degree felony is punishable by imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 5 years to life and a fine up to $10,000, whereas a third degree felony is punishable by imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 2-10 years and a fine up to $10,000.
Misdemeanors are generally considered less serious crimes with less severe penalties attached. They are subdivided into 3 categories in descending order of seriousness: Class A, Class B, and Class C. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by confinement in jail for up to one year, a fine up to $4,000 or both, whereas a Class C misdemeanor is simply punishable by a fine up to $500.
How a crime is classified also makes a difference in how the case proceeds. For example, in Beaumont and the rest of Texas, misdemeanors are typically handled in County Court whereas felonies are generally heard in District Court. In addition, in the case of a felony, the case is typically first presented to a grand jury, which will decide whether to issue an indictment.
Typically, an arrest occurs when a law enforcement officer personally observes a crime, has "probable cause" to believe one has been committed, or has an arrest warrant. Once the accused is in police custody and under interrogation, their Miranda rights ("you have the right to remain silent," etc.) should be read to them. If they are not, damaging statements made by the accused might not be used against them later in court.
Booking and Bail
The next stage in the criminal process is generally "booking." This is the process in which information about the accused is officially entered into the system. In addition, photographs and fingerprints may be taken, a search is typically made of the accused's person, and a basic medical screen may be performed, if necessary.
In order to be released home, the accused must guarantee that he will come back to appear in court. This is often accomplished by posting bail (basically cash or collateral given to the court and returned after they appear in court as promised). In some situations the accused can be released on his "own recognizance," which means that he simply gives his word to return.
One of the initial court appearances is typically the "arraignment." In Beaumont and the rest of Texas, an arraignment occurs in all felony cases after indictment and in all misdemeanor cases punishable by imprisonment. This is the time when the criminal charges against the defendant are read, a plea (guilty, not guilty) may be entered, and the parties are advised of future court dates.
The case will often then proceed through pretrial hearings and motions during which the parties will attempt to set the parameters for trial and may seek to keep out ("exclude") certain evidence or testimony.
The case may proceed to trial, may be dismissed, or may be resolved by plea bargain.
A criminal case can be emotionally taxing and the consequences of a conviction can be severe. You many want to check out the FindLaw section on Using a Criminal Lawyer for information about how a defense attorney might help, common defense strategies, and more.