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Your Fort Worth Criminal Case: The Basics

Everything's bigger in Texas, including the law books. Texas has laws and procedures to address many of the possible ways in which you or a loved one might get into trouble. The issue could be public intoxication at Texas stadium or something more serious like drinking and driving. Whatever the case, you are going to have serious questions, and the information you get might seem like too much to handle.

It's impossible to cover every scenario and every question that you or a loved one might have. This article aims to answer some basic questions having to do with criminal cases in the Fort Worth area.

What happens when a person is arrested?

Arrested persons are first processed at the Tarrant County Correction Center at 100 N. Lamar. Officers will take photos and finger prints and record other information about a suspect. An inmate may later be transferred to one of four other facilities based on gender, medical needs, and that inmate's security needs. In some cases, a law enforcement officer may decide not to take a suspect into custody. The officer may instead release him/her if the officer determines that confinement is unnecessary, but the suspect might still be ordered to appear in court.

How soon will a suspect appear in court and receive an attorney?

Texas law requires that an arrested person appear in front of a Magistrate (a type of judge or judicial officer) within 48 hours of arrest. Typically, arrested persons do not already have an attorney, and this is the occasion making a request. The Magistrate will determine whether the person has enough income and/or liquid assets to afford a lawyer. If person cannot afford a lawyer, he/she may request that the court appoint one to represent him/her. The Magistrate will then forward the request to the Tarrant County Office of Attorney Appointments, and a lawyer should be appointed within a few days of the request.

To qualify for appointed counsel, generally you must meet two requirements. First, you must earn no more than 125% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. Second, you must not have more than $15,000 in liquid assets. If you do not qualify under the general rules, the Office of Attorney Appointments may still make an exception in unusual circumstances.

The Office of Attorney Appoints will select an attorney based on their system of selecting professionals in the field. Many defendants would rather choose their own attorney-one who may be able to offer guidance in the related areas of law (immigration, family law, etc.) or who specializes in DWI work. You can tell the court that you'd rather hire your own attorney. See FindLaw's resources for hiring an attorney in Fort Worth.

How does a person get released from jail?

If you, or someone you know has been arrested, contact the Tarrant County PreTrial Services Program. The program assists inmates and families with obtaining a pre-trial release at a lower cost.

Which court will handle the case?

Fort Worth and Tarrant County have several courts that hear criminal cases. A case will be assigned to a court according to the severity of the charges and possible punishment. In Texas, there are two general levels of criminal punishments, and both of those general levels include many different categories.

Felony charges are the most serious, and the punishment can vary significantly. On the lighter side, you may face six months in state jail for a "State Jail Felony." On the other end, you may face life in prison or the death penalty for a "Capital Felony." A court may also impose a fine of up to $10,000. District Courts hear all felony cases.

Misdemeanor charges are more common, and still deserve a defendant's full attention. The most serious misdemeanor case, a "Class A Misdemeanor," may result in up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000. The least serious case, a "Class C Misdemeanor," may result in only a fine of up to $500. County Courts typically handle misdemeanor cases.

For more information on criminal punishments, see Title 3, Chapter 12 of the Penal Code or the Attorney General's Penal Code Offenses by Punishment Range.

What should I expect between my first appearance and trial?

The exact process for court hearings may vary in Texas. Some cases will require an Examining Trial in order to determine whether the state has enough evidence to proceed with a prosecution. In some cases that issue will already have been decided by a grand jury's indictment.

In any case, you can expect an arraignment in which the court confirms your identity, the charges against you, and your plea of guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere. You will have an opportunity to consult with an attorney before you are required to enter a plea.

All preliminary matters will be handled prior to a trial. The parties will argue and settle on what evidence is admissible, which defenses will be raised, which witnesses will appear, etc. Contact your attorney about the specifics of your case.

What happens if a case goes to a trial?

Criminal defendants have a right to a jury trial in Texas. If you exercise that right, the jury will include twelve members for felony cases in District Court and six members in misdemeanor cases. In order to reach a verdict, the jurors must all agree. A defendant may, of course, waive the right to a jury, and in that case, a judge will enter a verdict. Whether you should exercise or waive this right is an important legal decision. It is best to consult with your attorney, but it is ultimately each defendant's decision to make.

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