Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve been arrested or charged with a crime. What should I do now?

The most important decision you make in the days ahead will be who represents you against the government. Being arrested or charged with an offense does not mean you’re guilty. Innocent people are arrested everyday, and there’s almost always more to the story than what the police know at the time of the arrest. The burden is on the government to prove their case beyond all reasonable doubt. The sooner you begin working with an attorney to build your defense, the better.

The police contacted me as part of an investigation. What should I do?

For the most part, it is never a good idea to speak with the police without first consulting an attorney. An attorney will be able to analyze your situation, advise you of your rights, and protect you if the police are being unfair or biased. If a warrant is issued for your arrest or if you’re taken to jail, an attorney will help you navigate the criminal justice system.

If I’m innocent, do I still need to hire a lawyer?

Yes. It is especially important to hire an attorney if you’re innocent of the crime. An attorney can help you convince the government, and ultimately, a jury, of your side of the story. An attorney will know the most effective tactics and strategies to defend your rights and protect your freedom.

If I just plan on pleading guilty, should I still hire a lawyer?

Yes. Accepting a plea deal is an extremely important decision that you should never make without the advice of an attorney. There may be hidden consequences to your plea deal that you don’t anticipate. An attorney may also make you aware of defenses available in your case. At the very least, having an attorney on your side will result in better terms for the plea agreement. 

There are going to be times when accepting a plea offer is your best option, but never accept a plea deal without careful review of your case by an attorney. 

What is a summons under Texas law?

A summons is a legal notice issued by the court for a person to either appear in court or to produce a specific document. If you receive a summons, you should read through it carefully and make a note of the date, time and location where you are expected to appear in court.  You should then consult a criminal defense attorney to secure legal representation. 

When do I get to see a judge?

If you’re arrested in Texas, the government must bring you before a magistrate within 48 hours for a probable cause hearing. After that, the next judge you’ll see on your court date is the county of district court judge who presides over the court where your case is assigned. 

In practice, expect to say very little to the judge on your court dates. The judge will not just call you up to the bench to discuss the facts of your case. The judge may have certain questions for you regarding your intent to hire a lawyer, or whether or not you understand the charges against you. The judge will more often want to hear from your attorney.

What is bail? What is a bond? How is my bail determined?

These two words are commonly used interchangeably but they mean slightly different things. Bail is the amount of money that an accused person pays in order to be released from custody as they await trial. A bond, on the other hand, is a promise made in money to appear for your court dates. 

Your amount of bail will be set by a judge. The judge will consider factors set out in Article 17.15 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, including your criminal history, the probable cause for your arrest, and whether or not your offense was a danger to the safety of others or the community.

What are conditions of bond? Can they be modified? 

In certain cases, when you’re released from jail on a bond, the magistrate will place you on conditions of bond. These are rules you have to follow in order to remain out of jail while your case is pending before the court. The judge will be routinely updated on your progress and thus it is important to take these rules seriously. As an example, an ignition interlock may be required if you drive a vehicle, or you may be prevented from contacting an alleged victim in your case. 

Conditions of bond are controlled by the trial court, so they can be modified if the judge deems it appropriate.

Are conditions of bond the same thing as a protective order? 

No. This distinction results in many people being re-arrested after an initial arrest for a domestic incident. Let’s say the protective order expires after sixty to ninety days, and two adults make a consensual decision that they want to contact one another again. There still may be conditions of bond in place that prevent this contact, even if the protective order has expired.

Should I tell my lawyer the truth, even if I’m guilty?

Honesty is always the best policy when communicating with your lawyer. Your lawyer should in turn be honest with you about your situation, your rights, and your options. Your lawyer is best able to defend you by knowing the details of your case. Remember, the government must prove their case beyond all reasonable doubt. You may have legal defenses available to you even if you’re guilty. Similarly, hiding or withholding information from your lawyer can lead to a less effective defense. 

How long will it take to resolve a criminal case?

It depends on the county, and on the court, where the case is pending. Generally, a misdemeanor case will take four to twelve months to resolve depending on the speed of discovery and the caseload in the court where the case is pending. In certain cases, a simple misdemeanor might be resolved within only one to two months.  Felony cases tend to take a little longer, usually between six to fourteen months to resolve. In urban areas like Houston, it can take much longer than average to resolve a criminal case.

Here’s the bottom line – keep a strong line of communication open with your attorney. Let the attorney representing you know if resolving the case quickly is especially important to you. Resolving a case professionally won’t happen overnight, but your attorney should always keep you updated regarding significant developments in your case. Keep the line of communication open, and be patient with the process. 

How do I look up my next court date?

The best way to look up your court case is to search for records online via the clerk’s office in the county where your case is filed. Misdemeanors are filed with the county clerk, while felonies are filed with the district clerk. If you know the court where your case is pending, you can also call the court to inquire about your next court date. Most courts have staff who are friendly and willing to help. 

How do I contact my bond supervision officer or my probation officer? 

The county where your case is assigned will have a department of adult supervision you should contact to reach your probation or bond officer. If communication breaks down between you and any government agency, it is best to bring this information to the attention of your lawyer, who can help you navigate the system.

What happens if I violate the terms and conditions of my bond, or a protective order? 

Violating the terms and conditions of your bond, or violating a protective order, is the fastest way to end up back in jail while your case is pending. The government will file a motion to set aside your bond, and the judge will sometimes hold a hearing to determine if you’ve in fact violated these terms and conditions. The judge may issue an order for your arrest without a hearing. Either way, you can be taken back into custody and you may even remain in jail while your case is pending.

What happens when I go to court for a criminal case?

Most court dates early on in the process are relatively non-eventful. Your lawyer will meet with the government to ensure law enforcement agencies are complying with discovery rules and turning over all the required evidence to your lawyer. Your lawyer may also bring to the government’s attention weaknesses in the case against you, or information that could result in the case being resolved in your favor. Your lawyer may also address tertiary matters related to your case such as conditions of bond. 

What are the punishment ranges for misdemeanor offenses in Texas?

It is important to know the punishment range for your charge, but it is also important not to make decisions based upon fear. In Texas, the truth is that many misdemeanor offenses are resolved for far less than the maximum range of punishment. 

In Texas, Class “C” misdemeanors are the lowest level of criminal offense. They can include a fine of no more than $500 and no jail time. 

The next level up. Class “B” misdemeanors in Texas, can involve up to 180 days in the county jail and a fine of up to $2,000, as well as two years of community supervision probation or three years with an extension. 

In Texas, a Class “A” misdemeanor is the worst type of misdemeanor and can involve punishment of up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000, or up to two years of community supervision probation or three years with an extension. 

There are some exceptions to these general ranges related to criminal history. Some offenses also carry special punishment ranges or provisions. Be sure to discuss your specific offense with a criminal defense attorney.  

What are the punishment ranges for felony offenses in Texas?

The least severe punishment range in Texas for a felony offense is that of the State Jail Felony. Punishment for these crimes is jail time in the state jail division for at least 180 days and no more than two years, and a fine which cannot exceed $10,000. Punishment may also include community supervision probation.

A few important points about State Jail Felonies – unlike in a county jail, or the Texas Department of Corrections, in which inmates may be released early for time credit or good behavior, there is no such thing in state jail. The sentence will be served day for day.

On the other hand, many State Jail Felonies  may be lowered to misdemeanor punishment range under Section 12.44 of the Texas Penal Code.

Third Degree Felonies in Texas are a more serious charge than State Jail Felonies and misdemeanors. They carry a punishment range that involves prison time of 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000. Community supervision probation also may be imposed. 

Second Degree Felonies in Texas are a more serious charge than their third degree counterparts, and carry a punishment range of 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000, with the chance of community supervision probation available in certain cases. 

First Degree Felonies are the second most serious crime classification in Texas. Punishment involves 5 to 99 years or life in prison, as well as a fine of up to $10,000, along with the possibility of community supervision. 

Capital felonies are the worst criminal offense. In Texas, conviction of a capital felony means the sentence imposed can be life in prison or death. 

It is important to remember that criminal history can drastically alter a felony punishment range. For example, a habitual felon, someone who has been to prison twice in the past, can face 25 years to life in prison for a third degree felony, and 2 to 20 years in prison for a State Jail Felony. 

There are also certain hybrid felony offenses that carry special punishment ranges. Be sure to discuss your specific punishment range with your attorney, so you can better understand the degree of punishment to which you’re exposed.

How much money will it cost me to defend a criminal case in Texas? 

It’s vital early on in the attorney-client relationship to have a candid conversation with your attorney about the costs of defending a case. You will be responsible for attorney’s fees if you retain a lawyer, but there are also potential tertiary costs – fines, fees, restitution, court costs, the potential for retaining an expert witness – that can catch you off guard. Every case is different, and these extra costs can vary greatly depending on the complexity of the case. 

I’ve heard of Miranda Warnings. When do the police have to advise me of my rights? 

A lot of people are frustrated after an arrest because the police never advised them of their rights. The police only have to issue a Miranda warning if you are both formally in custody and are being interrogated. It is crucial to understand these two points because the police can use anything you say against you – even before you have heard your rights – as long as both of these conditions are not in place.

Being in custody means that a reasonable person would conclude that they were not free to leave. Statements that are volunteered by someone in custody, without an interrogation, can be used against them even if the police did not provide Miranda warnings

What are the steps involved with defending a criminal case in Texas? 

A professional criminal defense begins with a lawyer who is willing to listen. A lawyer needs to understand your needs and life circumstances to assess how different case resolutions will impact you. 

Next, a lawyer should obtain discovery in the government’s possession and conduct a thorough review of the case against you. 

Finally, when all the evidence has been reviewed, a lawyer should have a candid conversation with you about your options. If necessary, a lawyer should be willing to take your case to trial before a jury. 

How does a criminal defense attorney defend my case and protect my rights?

Criminal defense lawyers have a variety of tools and strategies available to help you defend a criminal case.

Criminal defense lawyers will often conduct a separate investigation into the case, gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses to help build a strong defense.

Criminal defense lawyers will often challenge the prosecution’s case by pointing out weaknesses or inconsistencies in the evidence and testimony presented.

Criminal defense lawyers can file motions to suppress if evidence was obtained illegally or in violation of your constitutional rights. 

Criminal defense lawyers can also use expert witnesses to help defend you. These experts can include forensic scientists, medical experts, mental health experts, and accident reconstruction experts. It often costs extra to enlist an expert witness, but it may be the difference between winning and losing at trial. 

In some cases, a criminal defense attorney may negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution, in which the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a reduced sentence.

In cases where a trial is necessary to resolve the matter, a criminal defense attorney will help to prepare you for trial by helping you understand the legal process, and the potential outcomes of the case, and by helping you to present your best defense in court. 

Criminal defense lawyers also play an important role in providing guidance and support throughout the legal process. A good lawyer will work to ensure you understand your rights, and the options available to you, and will help you make informed decisions about your case. 

What happens if I cannot afford a lawyer?

If a person cannot afford a lawyer, the government must appoint one for them in most all situations. This is known as a court-appointed lawyer or public defender. The government’s duty to provide a lawyer for a criminal defendant is established by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right to counsel.

Is there any hope of cleaning up or sealing my criminal record?

Texas law allows two potential pathways for cleaning up your record. Expunctions and nondisclosures each have similar end goals, but they are different legal devices and they apply in different circumstances. If you’re concerned about cleaning up your record, reach out to a criminal defense attorney who may be able to help.