Corpus Christi has a reputation for beauty and entertainment, but a fun night out can turn into a nightmare when it ends in an arrest. If you've been charged with a crime in Corpus Christ, you're probably feeling pretty frustrated and confused. Criminal law and procedure are complicated, and each case is different. This article discusses the basics of criminal cases in Corpus Christi so that no matter what crime you've been charged with or which court you'll be facing, you can be better prepared for what's ahead.
Categories of Texas Crimes
Before we get to the arrest, let's talk about categories of crimes in Texas. Under the Texas Penal Code, a crime is either a felony or a misdemeanor. There are three categories of misdemeanors: Classes A, B and C. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious class, and have a maximum penalty of a $4,000 fine and jail time of less than one year.
There are five categories of felonies in Texas including capital felonies, first, second, and third degree felonies, and state jail felonies. Capital felonies are the most serious category of felonies and carry possible sentences of life without parole, or, in extreme cases, death. On the other hand, most felonies are state jail felonies, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment in a state jail and a maximum $10,000 fine.
Procedure for Arrest
You probably already know that a police officer can't just walk up to you and arrest you for no reason. An officer may arrest you under three circumstances: 1) the officer has a warrant for your arrest, 2) the officer witnesses you commit a crime, or 3) the officer has probable cause to believe that you committed a crime or are about to commit a crime. The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure lays out in more detail circumstances under which a peace officer may arrest you without a warrant.
Once an officer has taken you into custody and before he begins interrogation, he must read your Miranda rights. If an officer fails to inform you of your rights and you're interrogated, the prosecutor won't be able to use what you say during that interrogation against you in court.
Booking and Bail
After your arrest, you'll likely be taken to one of three locations for booking: the Nueces County Jail, the Nueces County Corrections Department, or the Nueces County Sheriff's Department. During the booking process, you'll be asked to give your biographical information, fingerprinted, and photographed.
If you're going to be charged with a crime that is very serious or complex, you may be detained in jail until your arraignment, which must take place within 48 hours of your arrest. However, most people will be released after posting bail, which is set by a magistrate after booking. You may also be released "on your own recognizance," meaning you need not post bail as long as you promise to show up for court.
Municipal Court Proceedings for Class C Misdemeanors
If you're charged with a Class C Misdemeanor, the least serious category of crimes in Texas, your case will go to the Corpus Christi Municipal Court. Trial procedures in Municipal Court are less formal than in County or District Court. For example, you may send in your "not guilty" plea and request for either a jury trial or a bench trial by mail, rather than attending a formal preliminary hearing.
If you plead guilty to the Class C Misdemeanor charges, the court will impose a fine of not more than $500. If you plead not guilty, the municipal court will hold a trial. If you'd like to be represented by counsel, you must hire your own attorney. The city will not appoint one for you. However, if you're charged with a more serious crime and you can't afford an attorney, the county court may appoint one for you.
Arraignment and Next Steps
In Corpus Christi, if you're charged with any crime that is punishable by imprisonment, you'll attend an arraignment at the Nueces County Court, which handles Class A or B misdemeanors, or the Nueces County District Court, which handles all felony cases. A judge or magistrate will explain the charges against you along with possible penalties, and you will be asked to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest to the charges.
If you can't afford an attorney, the court will begin the process of appointing an attorney for you. Nueces County contracts with outside criminal defense attorneys to represent individuals accused of crimes who cannot afford to pay for an attorney, rather than maintaining a county public defender's office.
If you plead guilty at the arraignment, the court will schedule a sentencing hearing and may even impanel a jury to decide certain questions of fact that are relevant to your criminal sentence.
Pre-Trial Conferences and Motions
Most criminal cases are resolved before they ever reach trial. At the pre-trial conference, your defense attorney will meet with the prosecutor to discuss any issues in the case, make pre-trial motions and discuss the possibility of a plea agreement. If you decide to take a plea bargain, you will formally plead guilty to the charges against you and the prosecution will recommend a sentence.
Trial and Beyond
If your case is one of the few that goes to trial, your trial will follow steps similar to any criminal trial. If you haven't waived your right to a jury trial, your defense attorney, the district attorney and the judge will all have a role in choosing the jury for your trial.
Your trial will begin with opening statements from the defense and prosecution. Then, each side will call and cross-examine witnesses, and present evidence. Finally, after closing statements and jury instructions, the jury will deliberate and present its verdict. If the verdict is not guilty, you will be free to go. If the verdict is guilty, you will be sentenced according to the class of crime or crimes of which you've been convicted and the discretion of the judge.
Now that you know a little something about your Corpus Christi criminal case, hopefully the process will seem a bit less daunting. To learn more about criminal law and procedure, check out FindLaw's vast and informative Criminal Law section.