You were finally having a date night with your husband at a new seafood restaurant on the Strand. The server had just refilled your wine glass and you were starting in on the calamari when your phone started ringing. It was an unfamiliar number. Your husband said to just let it go to voicemail but, on a hunch, you answered. It was your son calling from the police station. He had just been arrested. You could barely even hear what he was saying your head was spinning so much. Arrested? How? When? Why? What happens now? Here is some basic information to help you navigate a criminal case in Galveston.
For a more general overview of criminal charges, procedures, rights and more you may want to check out FindLaw's section on Criminal Law.
After Arrest: Booking and Bail
After arrest, the accused individual will usually be taken to the police station for "booking." This is the process by which he is identified and entered into the system. He will likely be photographed, fingerprinted and searched at this time.
First, bail must generally be posted before he is released. If he fails to show up at the court date, the bail is forfeited. In some cases release is possible on his "own recognizance" which essentially means that the he gives his word that he will appear.
Categories of Crimes
Criminal offenses are usually classified as misdemeanors or felonies.For instance, misdemeanors are generally considered less serious crimes with less severe punishment, such as fines and/or imprisonment in the county jail. On the other hand, felonies are considered more serious and have more severe penalties attached, such as incarceration in prison.
According to the Texas Penal Code, misdemeanors are generally broken down into Classes A, B, and C, with a Class A misdemeanor being the most serious. Similarly, felonies are generally broken down into Capital, First, Second and Third Degrees, and State Jail Felony, with a capital felony being the most serious.
A Class A misdemeanor is subject to punishment of a fine up to $4,000, confinement in jail for up to one year, or both. A First Degree felony is subject to a fine up to $10,000 and imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for between 5 years and life.
Whether the crime is a misdemeanor or a felony will impact not only the punishment, but also the court that hears the case and the process that it followed.
Criminal Legal Proceedings
Generally speaking, when an individual is arrested in Galveston, a law enforcement officer, likely from the Galveston Police Department, will refer the results of their investigation to the Galveston County Criminal District Attorney's Office. A prosecutor from the District Attorney's (D.A.) office will then be assigned to the case and will handle it from the time it is filed until resolution.
In the case of a misdemeanor, a prosecutor from the D.A.'s misdemeanor section will pursue the case in one of the three Galveston County Courts at Law.
In the case of a felony, the matter will first be presented to a grand jury. A grand jury is a group of individuals called to jury service who don't determine whether a defendant is guilty or innocent, but simply whether there is enough evidence to bring felony charges.
If the grand jury decides that there is sufficient evidence, a prosecutor from the D.A.'s felony section will pursue the case in one of the Judicial District Courts.
The case may proceed to trial, may resolve by way of plea bargain, or may even be dismissed depending on the facts of the case.
The Galveston County D.A.'s website has a useful list of frequently asked questions (and answers) for further information about the criminal justice system in Galveston.
In certain limited circumstances in Texas, through the process of expunction, individuals can permanently remove information regarding an arrest, charge or conviction from their permanent record. For more specific information as to which offenses qualify and how to prepare a petition for expunction, refer to this booklet prepared by the Texas Young Lawyers Association.
Should You Get A Lawyer?
It can be frightening and confusing to be arrested and charged with a crime. Because the consequences of a criminal conviction can be serious, it is often recommended that you obtain a skilled defense attorney to represent you or your loved one. Check out FindLaw's section on Using a Criminal Lawyer for more information about defense strategies, what to expect from a defense attorney and more.