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Secrets of the Texas Criminal Justice System and Your Rights
When law enforcement officials arrest you for an offense, you may begin going through the legal proceedings necessary to resolve your case. These do not always have to end negatively. When a Houston criminal lawyer intercedes in your case, you may have a better chance at effectively defending yourself against any charges.
Under the rules of due process, any defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the high standard of proof that the prosecution must provide based on strong facts. A skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to cast enough doubt on the evidence to resolve the case to your advantage.
The Process of Proving Guilt
Convicting individuals of any criminal offense is a multi-step process. Prior to an arrest, law enforcement authorities must gather the necessary evidence to establish probable cause for your arrest. After establishing probable cause, police may arrest an individual who is suspected of committing offenses.
Charges and Arraignment
Next, the state will file formal charges against the accused individual and the court will schedule an arraignment. This is a brief hearing at which the judge informs the individual of the charges against them and gives them an opportunity to enter a formal plea to the charges: guilty, not guilty, or no contest. In most cases, an individual should plead not guilty to give their Houston criminal attorneys a chance to develop defenses and strategies to fight the charges.
Pretrial Proceedings and Plea Negotiations
The court will then schedule pretrial conferences and hearings for the case. These hearings allow the prosecution and the defense to meet and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the case. They also may resolve issues with the evidence and negotiate potential plea bargains, if necessary.
Trial Proceedings in Houston Criminal Cases
If the two sides cannot reach an acceptable plea agreement, the judge will schedule the case for a trial. The length of the trial depends on the nature of the case and the complexity of the charges against the individual, but a trial usually proceeds as follows:
- Selection of the jury to hear and decide the case
- Presentation of evidence by the prosecution, which could include witness testimony, photos, recordings, and other items
- Presentation of evidence by the defense
- Closing arguments by the prosecution and the defense
Following the trial, the jury will meet in order to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant based on the evidence. The jury in a criminal trial must issue a unanimous verdict. If even one juror does not agree with the verdict, it is a “hung jury” and the judge will declare a mistrial. The prosecution must then decide whether to retry the case.
If the jury returns a “not guilty” verdict, the defendant is free to leave the courtroom and are not convicted of any criminal offense.
Sentences for Criminal Offenses
If the jury returns a “guilty” verdict, the judge must follow state guidelines in sentencing the individual for the offense. The judge will also consider factors such as the individual’s prior criminal history, level of remorse, and acceptance of responsibilities as well as the severity of the offense. If applicable, the individual then will serve any term of incarceration that is part of the sentence.
Look to a Houston Criminal Attorney for Assistance
While legal proceedings typically follow the steps outlined above, there may be variations from one jurisdiction to the next. As a result, consulting a Houston criminal lawyer may give you more detailed information about impending legal proceedings.
All individuals have the right to a strong defense when facing criminal charges. When the potential penalties for an offense are severe, an experienced criminal defense attorney could assist you in building a defense and fighting back against the accusations against you.