A criminal charge against you should never be taken lightly. Even a simple DWI carries serious financial repercussions and up to one year in jail. To make matters worse, the criminal justice system is often unresponsive, slow-moving, and just plain dense. To help you navigate the murky waters of your case, we have created a guide to prepare you for what to expect from your San Antonio criminal case.
Many criminal cases will not result in an immediate arrest. Instead, you will often be given a ticket informing you of the charges and your next court date. However, for more serious or violent charges, San Antonio police can arrest you immediately. If so, you will likely be handcuffed and transported to the Bexar County Adult Detention Facility. Individuals who have are serving less than a one year sentence or are awaiting trial reside here.
Expect to proceed to "booking" where the jail staff will search you and confiscate your personal belongings until your release. You will also be required to provide biographical information and fingerprints before being led to a holding cell. Sooner or later, you will be given an opportunity to make a telephone call. It would be wise to contact someone you trust who could post bail or otherwise arrange your release.
Fortunately, the Constitution prevents you from being held in jail indefinitely. In fact, within 48 hours, you will attend an arraignment where the judge will formally read the charges against you and set bail.
An arraignment is your first opportunity to hear the charges against you and enter a plea. In almost all circumstances you would want to enter a plea of "not guilty," as you have not had the opportunity to see the evidence against you, speak with an attorney, consider possible defenses, or negotiate a plea bargain.
Your arraignment will likely take place at the Bexar County Courthouse. Defense attorneys could be present but will probably not have time to speak to you about your case in any depth. After your charges are read and you have entered a plea, the judge will either release you or set the bail amount.
Bail is a specific amount of money you must deposit so that you can be released from jail while awaiting your trial. If you show up to all your court dates, bail will be returned to you after the matter is resolved, but bail will be forfeited if you miss an appearance. If you are unable to post bail, try contacting a bail bond company in San Antonio. Bail bond companies will loan you the full amount of the bail in exchange for 10%. You can read more about bail bonds in the Texas Bail Bond Handbook.
After your release you will likely want to speak with a criminal defense attorney. You have a constitutional right to have an attorney represent you before you can be imprisoned for a period of more than six months, so if you lack the financial resources to hire a private attorney Texas could appoint and pay your defense attorney. Significantly, Bexar County does not have a Public Defenders Office at the trial level, so you will be appointed a private attorney, though there is an Appellate Public Defender's Office to help you appeal a criminal conviction.
If you are charged with a felony or gross misdemeanor, you are entitled to a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor must produce enough evidence to convince the judge that there is probable cause to hold a trial. In essence a preliminary hearing is a mini-trial where you get a sneak peak of the strengths and weaknesses of the case against you. It is possible that the charges will be reduced or dismissed entirely, but it is more likely that the judge will find probable cause to hold you to answer at trial.
Most cases are settled by plea bargains well before trial, but you have a constitutional right to trial by jury in misdemeanor or felony criminal cases. Going to trial is a gamble for defendants; either you win big and are found not guilty, or you lose and are subject to punishment without the benefit of a more favorable plea bargain. It is generally unwise to represent yourself at trial. There is an old saying among lawyers: "he who represents himself has a fool for a client."
The first step at trial is to select a jury. Twelve jurors must be selected for all criminal cases in Texas. Next, the attorneys will make opening statements and present evidence. Most evidence will be in the form of witness testimony, though recording, documents, maps or physical objects can be introduced into evidence as well.
Closing statement is your attorney's last chance to convince the jury of your innocence. During testimony evidence can merely be presented, but during argument lawyers are allowed to comment on the evidence and how it relates to the law.
The judge will then read jury instructions to the jury and give them a chance to deliberate in private. All twelve members of the jury must unanimously agree to convict you before you can be found guilty. If even one juror refuses to agree the case ends in a mistrial, a major victory for the defendant.
Now that you know what to expect from your San Antonio criminal case, bone up on basic criminal law information or learn how more about the defenses used in criminal cases.