Most people’s view of the criminal justice system is that there’s a trial, and the defendant is pronounced either “guilty” or “not guilty.” But the reality is often not that simple. When police open a criminal investigation, there are many ways it can be resolved–and if you’re a potential suspect, you need to be aware of how different outcomes affect your legal rights.
When Can the Police Arrest You?
The first step towards pursuing a formal criminal case–as opposed to mere investigation–is for the police to make an arrest. There are many scenarios where an arrest may occur. In some cases, a police officer personally witnesses a crime in commission, such as a robbery or drug deal. In most cases, however, the officer decides there is “probable cause” to make an arrest after conducting an investigation and asks a magistrate to issue an arrest warrant.
Can the Police Drop the Charges Against Me?
One of the more common myths regarding criminal defense law–and one that is often perpetuated by television police dramas–is the notion that an officer can promise “your case will be dismissed” if you cooperate. This is simply not how the legal system works. The police are charged with investigation and arrest. But once an arrest is made, the police hand the case over to the District Attorney’s office, which has the legal authority to make prosecutorial decisions for the State of Texas. So even if an officer promises that your case will be dismissed, do not rely on it. Ultimately, it’s the District Attorney’s call.
What Happens if the DA Does Not Immediately File Charges?
Texas gives its prosecutors enormous discretion when it comes to deciding what cases to bring to the court for trial. A prosecutor may tell you they will not file any charges against you “at this time.” This does not mean you are off the hook. Many times, prosecutors feel the police investigation has not yielded sufficient evidence to secure a conviction–but that could change at a later date.
Keep in mind, there is nothing that requires a District Attorney to file criminal charges immediately after an arrest. The only deadline the DA must follow is the applicable statute of limitations for the charged offense. And for many serious felonies–such as murder, aggravated sexual assault, or crimes against children–Texas has no statute of limitations, which means a DA could wait months (or years) to file a case.
What If the Grand Jury Refuses to Indict Me?
In misdemeanor cases, the District Attorney will charge you by “information,” which does not require approval by a grand jury. In felony cases, however, the District Attorney must first present the case to a grand jury. Like a trial jury, a grand jury is composed of 12 members of the community. But unlike a trial, which is a matter of public record, grand jury proceedings are secret. The process is also tightly controlled by the District Attorney–even your own criminal defense attorney may not appear before the grand jury without permission.
And while a trial jury must be unanimous, in the grand jury only 9 of the 12 jurors need to find there is probable cause to indict the defendant. If fewer than 9 jurors agree, it is referred to as a “no-bill.” This does not necessarily mean the case is over. The prosecution is free to refile and try again if they discover additional evidence. Since a grand jury proceeding is not a trial, the constitutional protection against “double jeopardy” does not apply to a no-bill situation.
Dismissal, Acquittal, and Appeal
Once a prosecutor files an information or obtains an indictment, the criminal case is now before the trial court. The prosecutor may still change his or her mind and move to dismiss the case. If the dismissal is “without prejudice,” the District Attorney’s office reserves the right to refile at a later date. In rarer cases, the prosecution–or the judge–will dismiss the case “with prejudice,” meaning the charges cannot be refiled.
Similar to a dismissal with prejudice, an acquittal by the jury is considered a final adjudication. Double jeopardy attaches to an acquittal, so the District Attorney cannot retry you on the same charges. And if you are convicted, you may appeal the jury’s verdict. If there was some error made in the conduct of your trial, the appellate court may “overturn” the conviction. This is not the same thing as an acquittal. Depending on the circumstances, the appellate court may simply return the case for a new trial or sentencing hearing.
Contact Our Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyers Today
If you are facing any kind of felony or misdemeanor charge, the best thing you can to do to protect yourself is to work with an experienced criminal lawyer in Collin County. Never rely on the word of the police or the District Attorney that “everything will be okay.” Instead, contact Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC, to get immediate legal advice and assistance.