Pre-arrest Investigation: The law enforcement investigates whether a crime has been committed. If they decide a crime has not been committed, no charges are filed. In some counties, like Houston, Harris County, Texas, the police will present the case to the prosecutors to make a final decision on whether charges are accepted. In other words, in Houston, Texas, police do not on their own unilaterally make the charging decision (although their input no doubt weighs heavily on the prosecutor).
Arrest: An arrest occurs when the individual accused of a crime is taken into custody by law enforcement. Arrest can occur two different ways: 1. Police arrest the defendant at or just after an alleged offense, or 2. Police obtain an arrest warrant to arrest the defendant. The former occurs much more frequently than the latter. Think of DWI’s, thefts, or assaults, where police almost never have an arrest warrant for these common crimes.
Grand jury system: A grand jury determines whether a felony should be indicted. Most criminal attorneys in Texas do not realize a defendant has no federal constitutional right to a grand jury indictment. Instead, the right to indictment is based purely on State law. A grand jury is composed of 12 or more citizens, mostly retired, who decide whether probable cause exists for the felony case to go forward. If they decide probable cause exists, then the defendant is indicted. If the grand jurors decide probable cause does not exist, then the case is dismissed and the charges end. Preliminary hearings are not held in all criminal cases and in all states. Some states only conduct preliminary hearings in the case of felony charges, not misdemeanor crimes.
Preliminary hearing : A preliminary hearing is also know as proceeding wherein the prosecuting authority must establish in court that they have probable cause to detain the individual on the filed charges. In Texas, there are no such preliminary hearings (absent rare circumstances, in what is known as an “examining trial” for felonies). Texas criminal defense attorneys typically do not ask for examining trials because the prosecution, in response, will close their file and just indict the case (which defeats the right to an examining trial in Texas).
Arraignment: After the particular person is arrested for a crime, he appears in court for an initial appearance or arraignment. This is where he enters a plea and the judge decides if he needs a court-appointed attorney. Typically, in Harris County, Texas, a defendant will not be appointed an attorney and therefore must hire a criminal lawyer in Houston, Texas, if he posts bond. The idea is that if the defendant can afford to post bond, he can afford to hire a criminal defense lawyer.
Plea bargaining: Instead of going to trial, an accused may enter into a plea bargain for the State. A plea bargain is a contract. In return for the defendant’s plea, he will receive some kind of a bargain, such as community supervision or a reduced charge. Unfortunately, many Houston criminal lawyers rush to plead a case before doing any investigation that could result in an outright dismissal. Never hire a criminal attorney in Houston, Texas, who does not understand the importance of thoroughly investigating the criminal case.
Voir dire: This is the process at trial by which a jury is questioned and selected.
Sentencing: If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty during the trial, he is then sentenced. Sentencing is usually done by the judge, not the jury, unless the jury specifically requests a jury. Texas is one of the few states that still has jury sentencing. The jury has latitude to sentence the defendant anywhere in the sentencing range. For example, in a murder case, probation is legally not an option. So the jury can sentence the defendant from five years to life.