When you are charged with a crime, it will affect your rights, freedom, and reputation. Additionally, in Texas, the criminal defense system can be challenging and complicated to navigate.
To effectively defend your rights can be a daunting task especially without proper legal background, and a clear understanding of Texas criminal procedures and laws. This can limit your case outcome, causing great harm to your future.
FAQ’s in criminal defense
We recently did a post detailing the step-by-step criminal justice process in Texas and what you can expect when facing charges. You can read all about it here.
Amid the legal battle confusion, a lot of questions may arise and here are answers to notable FAQs on criminal defense in Texas.
Do I need a criminal defense attorney?
No. Texas law doesn’t require a defendant to hire a criminal defense lawyer. However, it’s a smart move to hire one immediately after you have been accused.
Would you do surgery on yourself or a loved one without the proper medical knowledge and background? If not, why then gamble with your rights and freedom by navigating a criminal justice system you are not familiar with?
Hiring a criminal defense attorney who will guide you through the criminal justice process, negotiate your plea deals, ensure your constitutional rights are upheld, and devise the correct defense strategies tailored towards your case, is highly advisable.
What if I can’t afford a lawyer?
Generally speaking, hiring a criminal defense attorney is an expensive affair. But, if you can’t afford a private lawyer, you can get one through:
Court-appointed criminal defense attorneys
In case you can’t afford the legal fees, the State of Texas has a legal obligation to appoint a state lawyer for you as per Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 1.051(b).
However, there is a downside of state-appointed lawyers; you have no power to interview them or select the one you want. Instead, you must take and work with the court-appointed one.
Pro Bono criminal defense attorneys
The defendant may opt to select their legal representatives from attorneys that provide free or pro-bono work. You can find the list of such lawyers at the Texas Bar association. You can also contact your local legal aid office for guidance.
Generally speaking, most lawyers provide pro-bono services to individuals with a disability or if you can prove that you can’t afford lawyer fees.
Pro Bono Incentives
Since the year 2000, the Texas Bar encourages every lawyer to contribute at least 50 hours of free services to the public.
While this is an open resolution without any form of punishment, most attorneys in Texas embrace it as a way of providing legal access to under-served and low income populations.
What category does my crime belong to?
Crimes are categorized according to their nature and severity and as a result, this will determine the sentence.
Generally, felonies are the most severe criminal offenses receiving the highest sentencing.
According to the Texas sentencing guidelines, a felony crime punishment ranges from a jail term of 180 days to life imprisonment or death. It may also attract a $10,000 fine and community supervision.
State Jail Felony
These felonies include crimes that attract a jail term of 180 days and a fine of $2000 or less and you may also be required to do community service.
States Jail felonies include:
- Criminal negligent homicide
- Forging checks
- Driving when intoxicated while carrying a child passenger
- Credit card abuse
- Cruelty to animals
- Possession of less that 1 gram of certain illegal drugs
- False report.
Third-degree felonies attract a punishment of jail term of between 2-10 years and a fine of $10,000.
Example of third degree felony crimes include:
- Intoxication assault
- Tampering with evidence
- DWI (third offense)
- Deadly use of firearms
- Escape from felony jail
- Violation of a protective order
- Aggravated perjury
In Texas, second-degree felonies attract a jail term of 2-20 years and a fine of $10,000 and maybe community supervision.
Such crimes include:
- Human trafficking
- Online solicitation of minor below 14 years
- Indecent contact with a child
- Intoxicated manslaughter
- Marijuana possession of 50-2,000 pounds,
- Aggravated assault
- Sexual assault
- Stalking (second degree)
First -Degree Felony
First-degree felony crimes attract a punishment of 5-99 years in jail or life imprisonment, $10,000 fine and possible community supervision.
Examples of first degree felonies include:
- Aggravated kidnapping
- Attempted capital murder
- Aggravated robbery
- Solicitation of capital murder
- Burglarizing a habitation intending to commit a felony
- Causing bodily harm to the senior citizen, disabled person or child,
- Trafficking of persons of 14 years and below
- Arson resulting in death
Capital felonies in Texas are the most severe criminal offenses, and they attract a punishment of death or life imprisonment.
Example of capital offenses include
- Premeditated capital murder
- Murder with exceptional circumstances (like repeat offense, using guns, multiple or intentional)
- Death due to aircraft hijacking
These are lesser crimes, and are categorized into three levels, depending on how serious the crime is. However, if you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you will not lose your civil rights.
Class A Misdemeanors
Class A misdemeanors attract a one year jail and/or a fine not exceeding $4000 or a 2-year probation. The crimes include promotion of gambling, animal cruelty, obscenity, possession of drugs (marijuana)2-4 ounces, bodily injury, resisting arrest, and perjury.
Class B Misdemeanors
Class B misdemeanors include rioting, prank or silent call to emergency numbers, lying to police (intentionally), harassment, prostitution, indecent exposure, DWI (first offense) and terror threats. They attract a jail term of 180 days or less and/or maximum fine of $2000, two-year community supervision.
Class C Misdemeanor
Class c misdemeanor crimes include gambling, issuing bad checks of $20 or less, using laser pointers, public intoxication, simple assault and possessing drug paraphernalia. They attract a maximum fine of $500 with no jail term.
How long will my case take?
The duration varies with various factors like evidence presented, the severity of the charges and the defendant wishes. On average, a criminal case in Texas may take two months-two years or more.
To read further on the duration of criminal trials in Texas, please check out our post here.
What is the criminal justice process in Texas?
Depending on your case, the criminal procedure may be long or short.
Generally, criminal procedures include;
Usually, you will be arrested before a search, since the police may have probable cause that you committed or are involved in a crime.
Here an official process occurs with the police taking down and recording your personal information, including telephone number, address, name and date of birth and your accused offense. Your fingerprints and photographs will also be taken.
During arraignment, you will be presented in court and you will be formally informed of the charges. An arraignment usually happens within 72 hours after your arrest. You may also enter a plea include:
Guilty plea:This means you admit to committing the crime
Not guilty plea: It means you don’t admit to committing the crime. After making the not guilty plea, the court sets the trial date.
No contest plea: This means neither do you admit nor dispute the charges.
Mute plea: A mute plea allows the accused person to plead not guilty without admitting to the correctness of the charges.
Depending on the gravity and nature of your crime, you may get detained until your trial or you may get bail, which will set you free as you wait for the trial.
Therefore, you will pay a certain amount of money to the court as your guarantee you won’t run away, and that you will avail yourself when required.
Bail money will be refunded to you if you follow the laid down rules accordingly, but if you break them, a warranty of arrest is issued, and the court keeps your money.
The judge sets the bail money depending on the circumstances but it can range from a few hundred to millions of dollars.
However, bail is denied in some circumstances or offenses such as capital felonies, habitual offenders, and among other factors such as risk of flight.
During the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will present their case against you and the judge determines if the evidence presented is enough to put you on trial.
The prosecutor and defense attorney present their opening statements. After the opening statements, the evidence is presented, witnesses will be questioned, and then comes the closing statements from both sides.
The judge then gives the jury instructions to deliberate and announces their verdict which may include: not guilty, guilty of lesser charged or related offense, or guilty.
For a jury to convict the defendant, the verdict should be unanimous but in case of a hung jury, a mistrial will be declared.
If you are found guilty or you have pleaded guilty, a sentencing date will be set. During the hearing, the judge will read your sentence that may include jail time, fines or both, among other conditions.
What is probation?
In case you are offered probation, the judge will suspend your jail sentence, you will be released, but, you will be governed by the probation terms for the specified duration.
Your probation terms may include being under community supervision of a probation officer for a given time. However, violation of the given probation terms may land you in jail.
Can I appeal my sentence?
If your defense team believes that during the trial, improper procedures were conducted or they have acquired new or additional evidence, you can appeal to the given sentence within 30 days.
How much does a criminal defense attorney cost in Texas?
Typically, a private criminal defense lawyer’s rates are subject to their qualification and experience, case complexity, outstanding trial results and location.
That being so, there is no indicative standard legal fee for defence attorneys. However, hourly billing ranges from $150 -$700, while fixed fee ranges from $1500, including subpoena fees, copying fees, and so on.
Generally, a retainer fee is applicable in both circumstances and it may include half the amount for the fixed fee and specific hours in advance for hourly billing.
A reminder of why you REALLY do need an attorney
Being accused of having committed a criminal offense can be a devastating and severe matter, causing a lasting impact on your rights and future. Therefore, it’s vital to protect your future and rights by contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney in North Texas. Never face serious criminal charges alone!