Criminal law involves prosecution by the government of a person for an
that has been classified as a crime. In a criminal case the state,
through a prosecutor, initiates the suit, while in a civil case
the victim brings the suit. Persons convicted of a crime may be
incarcerated, fined, or both.
A "crime" is any act or omission (of an act) in
violation of a public law
forbidding or commanding it. Though there are some common law crimes,
most crimes in the United States are established by local, state, and federal governments.
The criminal process can be complex and confusing. But it's important to know your legal rights. The best way to be informed is to contact an attorney in your area as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney will understand the law as it relates to the crime you've been charged with, and will be able to help you in making informed decisions as your case moves through the process.
You may be stopped for questioning by the police. A stop is not the same as an arrest because, although you may be detained, you aren't moved to a different location. During a stop the police officer may ask you questions, but you have the right to refuse to answer.
A search warrant authorizes police to conduct a search of a specific, place such as your residence. In order for a warrant to be issued by a judge, "probable cause" is necessary.
Probable cause to search means that:
The general rule is that warrants are required for searches. But search warrants are not required for the following:
In order to be arrested, there must be what's called "probable cause." This means that there must be a reasonable belief that a crime was committed and you committed the crime. An arrest warrant is not necessary.
After you're placed under arrest, you are protected by constitutional rights. Two important rights to be aware of are right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney. After your arrest, you aren't required to say anything else to police or investigators, until you have an attorney present. You must be given the opportunity to contact an attorney.
Under the Miranda Rule, if you are in police custody you must be informed of specific constitutional rights before interrogation begins. Those rights are as follows:
Important to note is that Miranda rights do not have to be read until you are taken into custody. That means that you can be questioned by the police before being taken into custody, and anything you say at that point can be used against you later in court.
After you're arrested, the police will bring you to the police station for the booking process. You'll be fingerprinted and asked a series of questions, such as your name and date of birth. You'll also be searched and photographed. Your personal property such as jewelry will be catalogued and stored.
In Texas, if you cannot afford to hire an attorney, and if you are charged with a crime that is punishable by incarceration, an attorney will be appointed to defend you.
Once a public defender has been appointed to defend you, you may ask the court to appoint a substitute attorney only for good cause. Good cause requires more than mere dissatisfaction with your appointed attorney and may include:
Once criminal charges are filed, you'll make a court appearance known as an arraignment. If you are incarcerated, this will usually occur within 72 hours of your arrest.
During your arraignment, you'll be asked to enter a "plea" to the crime you've been charged with. Texas pleas and corresponding definitions follow:
"Bail" is money or property put forth as security to ensure that you'll show up for further criminal proceedings.
In Texas, bail can be paid:
A professional bail bondsman is an individual whose business is to pledge his or her own property or security to guarantee the bail bond to the court.
You have a right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which requires that the trial be held within a certain time frame after a person has been charged with a crime.
This right can be waived by asking for additional time for the preparation of your defense.
With limited exceptions, a defendant should be brought to trial in Texas within the following time frames:
A felony is a crime usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year. A misdemeanor, on the other hand, is usually punishable by a fine or a year or less of incarceration.
Many prosecutors will consider "plea agreements," although it's not legally required. If you don't reach a plea agreement with the prosecutor, your proceedings will move toward the trial stage.
In Texas, you have the right to a jury trial in all criminal proceedings, regardless of punishment. This right may be waived by:
If you request a bench trial, the judge will perform the fact-finding function that is usually performed by the jury.
If you're found guilty after a trial, you're entitled to an appeals process. This process varies depending upon the crime, but there are always time deadlines by which you must file an appeal.
In Texas, you generally have 30 days from sentencing to file an appeal.
There are numerous reasons for an appeal from a guilty verdict in a criminal case, including what's called "legal error." Legal error may include:
You may also appeal due to misconduct on behalf of the jurors, or if there is newly discovered evidence to exonerate you.
In Texas, under some circumstances, you may be able to have a criminal record expunged, which means that the records are returned to you or destroyed.
You may be eligible for expungement if:
If you are eligible to have your records expunged, you may file a petition in court. A person who has reached age 17 must make a sworn written request to have juvenile records expunged.
In addition, if you have received a discharge and dismissal from deferred adjudication community supervision (an alternative sentencing program in Texas), you may petition the court for a nondisclosure order following dismissal for some misdemeanors, five years after dismissal for other misdemeanors, or 10 years after dismissal for felonies. A nondisclosure order prohibits criminal justice agencies from disclosing criminal history information to the public.
Motor vehicle records cannot be expunged.