The Texas Criminal Process
People with no prior criminal record understandably have a very limited knowledge of how the criminal justice system works in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and surrounding areas of Texas. Some alleged offenders can be startled to learn that the process is much more complex than simplified film and television depictions have led them to believe.
When a person has been arrested or believes that he or she is being investigated in connection to an alleged crime, it is critical to immediately retain legal counsel. Working with an experienced attorney can help an alleged offender anticipate what will happen and restore some peace of mind during a very stressful time.
Fort Worth Lawyer for Criminal Proceedings
If you have been charged with any kind of crime in Tarrant County or a nearby community in North Central Texas, do not delay in seeking legal representation. Townsend, Gebhardt & Eppes, PLLC aggressively defends clients throughout Fort Worth, Cleburne, Weatherford, Arlington, and many surrounding areas.
Our Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys have over three decades of combined experience on both sides of the aisle, providing you with a fully-informed and well-rounded perspective on criminal charges. Call 817-502-3600 today to have our lawyers review your case during a free, confidential consultation.
Overview of Criminal Process in Tarrant County
- How do most criminal cases begin?
- What is the difference between misdemeanor and felony charges?
- What happens when an alleged offender makes his or her first appearance in court?
- How does bail work in Texas?
- What happens before a case goes to trial?
- How does the criminal trial process work?
- When and how is a convicted offender sentenced?
- Which courts can a person appeal a verdict to?
- Where can I learn more about courthouses in Fort Worth?
A police investigation begins at the scene of an alleged crime. If there is enough evidence to establish probable cause (reasonable grounds to make an arrest or receive an arrest warrant), law enforcement can move forward with taking an alleged offender into custody.
An investigation may last a matter of minutes, such as vehicle stops in cases of alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI). More complex investigations, such as cases of alleged drug trafficking or fraud, could take several months or possibly even years.
Depending on the specific crime, an alleged offender may be arrested and taken into custody or issued a notice to appear in court at a later date. In the latter case, if the alleged offender fails to appear, then a bench warrant may be issued for his or her arrest.
When a person is arrested for a misdemeanor offense, the arresting officer will file the criminal charges with the district attorney’s office where the district attorney then decides whether to prosecute the case. Felony cases require indictments from grand juries.
A district judge will organize a grand jury of 12 people to hear all of the prosecutor's evidence. If nine of the dozen grand jurors agree to return an indictment, it is referred to as a true bill. When less than nine grand jurors vote to charge an alleged offender, the grand jury returns a no bill and criminal charges are not pursued.
An alleged offender’s first appearance in court is called the arraignment. During this proceeding, the judge will inform the alleged offender of his or her rights and the alleged offender will be formally presented with the criminal charges against him or her.
The judge sets a tentative appearance schedule if the alleged crime is a misdemeanor offense, and schedules a preliminary hearing if the case is a felony matter. The alleged offender is also expected to enter a plea during the arraignment:
- Guilty — The alleged offender admits his or her guilt and forfeits his or her right to trial. The case then proceeds to sentencing.
- Nolo Contendere (No Contest) — The alleged offender neither admits his or her guilt nor contests the charges against him or her. He or she forfeits his or her right to trial and the case proceeds to sentencing.
- Not Guilty — The alleged offender exercises his or her right to a trial by jury and shifts the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to the state.
Alleged offenders occasionally stand mute or enter creative pleas, but judges often enter pleas of not guilty on their behalves. These refusals or non-standard pleas can result in additional consequences.
During the arraignment, the judge will also decide whether bail should be granted and what the amount should be set at. Chapter 17 of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure establishes three types of bail bonds for an alleged offender’s release:
- Cash Bond — The entire bail amount is required to be paid by cash, cashier’s check, or money order. The amount will be refunded to the alleged offender if he or she makes all scheduled court appearances.
- Personal Bond — Also called a personal recognizance bond or PR bond, the alleged offender is released only on his or her agreement to be present for all future court appearances.
- Surety Bond — A bondsman or bonding company charges a fraction (usually about 10 percent) of the total bail in order to obtain release in exchange for guaranteeing the alleged offender’s presence for all future court appearances. The bondsman or bonding company becomes liable for the full bail amount if the alleged offender fails to appear in court. The initial fee paid by the alleged offender is non-refundable.
Very few criminal cases actually go to trial. If a case does move towards trial after arraignment, the prosecutor and the defense attorney will typically engage in pretrial negotiations.
When a plea agreement cannot be reached, the defense lawyer may file any number of motions in court to affect the trial or get the case thrown out. Some of the motions that may be filed include, but are not limited to:
- Motions for pre-trial hearing;
- Motions in limine (motion requesting that certain testimony be excluded or certain evidence not be introduced at trial);
- Motions to dismiss (due to lack of probable cause or lack of evidence);
- Motions to exclude witness testimony; and
- Motions to suppress evidence.
Should a case actually reach a trial stage, both the prosecutor and defense attorney as well as the judge question potential jurors through a process called “voir dire” (pronunciations ranging from “vwah deer” to “vorr dyer” to “vwar deer,” although some just call it jury selection). After a jury has been selected, the trial typically unfolds through the following stages:
- Information or indictment read to jury;
- Defendant enters plea;
- Opening statements by prosecution and defense;
- Presentation of evidence by prosecutor;
- Direct examination of witnesses by prosecutor;
- Cross-examination by defense lawyer;
- Presentation of evidence by defense attorney;
- Rebuttal witnesses or evidence by prosecutor;
- Closing arguments;
- Instructions to jury;
- Jury deliberations; and
If the jury reaches a verdict of not guilty, the alleged offender is immediately released and free to go. If a guilty verdict is reached, then the judge sets a date for sentencing. If the jury is unable to agree on a verdict (also called a hung jury), then the judge can declare a mistrial and the prosecution may seek to have the case tried again before a new jury.
An alleged offender is given the option before a trial even being to decide whether his or her potential sentenced will be determined by the judge or jury. If a jury is chosen, then the same jury that determined culpability will also decide the punishment in a separate hearing.
If a judge is chosen, then the alleged offender is interviewed by an agency such as the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department after he or she is convicted. The agency may conduct interviews of victims and other parties as part of preparing a pre-sentence report that is given to the judge.
The judge reviews the report and its recommendations before the sentencing hearing and a defense lawyer can also submit a briefing and other evidence with mitigating factors that may support a lighter sentence. Depending on the alleged offense, sentencing may include imprisonment, fines, probation, and/or community service.
Alleged offenders may still have options even if they are found guilty after trials. Criminal cases in Texas at the district level can be appealed to one of the 14 Courts of Appeals.
Both Tarrant County and Parker County are among the dozen counties served by the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. Any subsequent appeals would go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA)m which is the court of last resort for all criminal matters in the Lone Star State.
Tarrant County Criminal Courts — You can learn more about the 10 district courts handling felony level criminal matters and 10 county criminal courts handling misdemeanor level criminal matters in Tarrant County on this website. In addition to local rules and media rules, you can also find answers to frequently asked questions, pay fines or fees, and learn more about diversion programs.
Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center
401 West Belknap Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Tarrant County Courthouse — This 1895 structure is considered the “architectural masterpiece” of Fort Worth. As part of the Tarrant County government campus, the building now houses the County Commissioners Court as well as the county clerk's office and probate and county courts at law.
Tarrant County Courthouse
100 Weatherford Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Find a Lawyer for Help with Criminal Process in Fort Worth, TX
Were you arrested for a criminal offense in the greater Fort Worth area? It will be in your best interest to immediately seek legal representation.
Townsend, Gebhardt & Eppes, PLLC defends clients all over Parker County, Johnson County, Tarrant County, and surrounding parts of North Central Texas. You can have our Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys review your case when you call 817-502-3600 or submit an online form to set up of a free initial consultation.