A felony offense is more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are serious offenses which can be punishable by a heavy sentence.
Crimes that are commonly considered to be felonies include:
Possession and/or delivery of a controlled substance
The procedure for how a felony case is handled in the District Courts:
Filing the Case
The case is filed by the police agency with the District Attorney’s office; it is then generated into a charging instrument known as an indictment. An indictment is a written statement of a grand jury accusing a person therein named of some act or omission which, by law, is declared to be an offense. This puts the defendant on notice of charges being brought against him or her.
Once all the paperwork has been generated the case is then brought before a grand jury. The grand jury panel is made up of citizens of the community and they briefly review information provided by the police. They will then make a determination whether there is sufficient evidence to believe that an offense has occurred. Any person charged with a felony offense has an absolute right to have his or her case indicted by the grand jury.
Once the felony case has been filed it is randomly assigned to one of the felony courts. It may take two to three weeks before a case is actually heard by the grand jury. The grand jury either issue a true bill of indictment or a no bill. True bill means that there was enough evidence found to believe that an offense did occur and that the case will then be sent to the felony court to which it was assigned. A no bill means that the grand jury did not believe there was enough evidence to proceed with the case as it was filed.
If the defendant is in jail he/she will be brought to court. Inmates are brought to the courts in groups through secured access tunnels. The only way to be brought to courts is by the request of the court or through the request of the defendant’s attorney.
If the defendant was able to bond out of jail he/she will be notified by mail. The address used is the one you gave the jail when you were released, so makes sure the address is correct. The information that is sent out is which court the case has been assigned, the court date and the time the defendant is to appear. On the court date, he/she should go directly to the court and DO NOT BE LATE. If he/she is not there on time then he/she could have his/her bond forfeited and a warrant issued for his/her arrest. Bond forfeiture means that the person who posted money, as a guaranty that the defendant would appear for the setting date, losses it. If you are not sure what to do it is always best to enter the courtroom and check in with the court bailiff or court coordinator, unless otherwise told by the defense attorney.
If on bond the person accused must appear in court. It will be determined at this setting if the defendant must hire an attorney or if they qualify for a court appointed lawyer. Usually the defendant has until the next court date to hire an attorney.
If in jail the defendant will be brought to the court on what courts call a jail run. If the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney and if an attorney has not already been appointed for him/her then one will be appointed at that time.
At this time the defense attorney will usually receive the police reports on the case and any additional evidence that the prosecutor has in his or her possession. The defense attorney will also receive a formal complaint, which states the charges that have been filed. It is possible that charges may be different than those that the defendant was arrested. The police may have arrested him/her for one pair of offenses, the District Attorney’s office may have disagreed and filed a completely different set of offenses if they feel the facts warrant.
The first announcement setting is usually to allow the defense lawyer and the assistant district attorney an opportunity to discuss the case and determine if the case will be dismissed, plea bargained or set for a jury or bench trial.
The case can be set for announcement two or three times. It is set several times, usually, because it is because it is not the 1st case on the trial docket, older cases go first. If the defendant is out on bond they will be required to appear at every court setting regardless of if the defendant’s attorney has to appear. If the defendant does not have to appear he/she will be notified by his/her attorney.
If the defendant is in jail he/she will not always be brought to the court for each announcement setting, unless the defendant’s attorney requests that the defendant be brought to the court on the jail run.
At the final announcement setting it is then determined wither the defendant wishes to reach a plea bargain agreement or to have a trial. If the decision is made to have a trial most courts will not allow the plea bargain be offered again.
If the defendant has chosen to take the plea bargain offer then the case will be set for a plea. This is were the defendant will enter his/her plea of guilty or nolo contender to the charges brought against him/her. A plea of nolo contender means that the defendant is not pleading guilty but is not contesting the charges brought against him/her. Though is still has the same legal effects as pleading guilty to the charge. During this setting the defendant may either accept the plea bargain offered or he/she may enter an open plea. An open plea is asking the judge to set punishment instead of accepting the punishment the State has offered.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense you have the absolute right to plead not guilty to the charges brought against you and have a trial by jury or before a judge. The form the trial takes depends entirely upon the particular circumstances of the case. The well-prepared criminal defense attorney will develop an overall theme to your case and call witnesses that support the defendant’s innocence. The State of Texas, through the Assistant District Attorney, must prove the defendant guilty of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt.
In most jurisdictions, before trial commences, the defendant and the defense attorney will have the opportunity to select a jury. This is commonly called voir dire (jury selection). In a felony case there are 12 jurors.
After the jury has been selected the defense attorney will argue whatever motions are required in order to secure the defendant a fair trial. After the motions are heard, the trial will then begin. The Assistant District Attorney will give an opening statement. The defense attorney can give an opening statement either at that time or reserve opening statement until the after the Assistant District Attorney’s case is over. After the opening statement, the Assistant District Attorney will present its evidence in the form of physical and scientific evidence and expert and lay witnesses. The defense attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine each of those witnesses.
Once the State rests the case, the defense attorney will put on the defendant’s case, calling any helpful witnesses to the stand. After the defense attorney finishes his/her case, the State has an opportunity to put on rebuttal evidence. Once all the evidence is closed, the Assistant District Attorney and the defense attorney will give a closing argument to the jury.
The jury will then retire to reach its decision. The jury’s decision regarding if the defendant is guilty or innocent must be unanimous. All 12 jurors must reach the same conclusion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant. If the jurors are not able to reach a unanimous verdict the judge may declare a mistrial and the case may be retried.
If the defendant is found guilty of the offense he/she may choose whether the jury or the judge will set punishment. If it is a bench trial the judge determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant and also set the punishment.
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