Felony Court Process
Citizen is arrested either on view by a police officer who saw them commit a crime, or by warrant supported by an affidavit stating probable cause. In Dallas, agencies have 72 hours after arrest to file their case with the D.A.’s office. An individual who has not made bond prior to the 72 hours will be released if the agency has not filed their case. In other jurisdictions, the police agency may have much more time to file a case. As a practical matter, the filing of a case requires only a brief narrative stating probable cause and many agencies now file electronically. Beyond the arrest the D.A.’s office has 90 days in which to indict the case by presenting a case to the grand jury and securing a True Bill. Individuals still in jail beyond 90 days without the presentment of a case to the grand jury must be released on a reduced bond or a personal recognizance bond.
The Grand Jury
The grand jury consists of 12 citizens from the community who hear a brief recitation of the basic facts of the case. Often times it is only a reader who reads a police report and has no personal knowledge of the case. The summary for many cases may be less than a minute. The D.A. controls what evidence the grand jury hears and the defendant and his attorney have no right to be present. Cases do get No Billed which is where the grand jury finds no probable cause and the case is dropped.
The Trial Court
In some place like Dallas, the trial court prosecutor has probably never seen your case before it was indicted and knows very little about the case at the first setting. In others like, Rockwall or Kaufman, the trial prosecutor presented your case to the Grand Jury. In many cases, the prosecutor’s strategy is to recommend much greater punishment than they would eventually agree to, to avoid a trial. That is, of course, unless your case is one that a prosecutor identified early as a case they want to try. If this is the case, beware, because they will be seeking the maximum possible punishment.
Many citizens accused of crimes talk to others who have been through similar situations. This is a horrible mistake. Each prosecutor has a different personality, skill level and work ethic. Your friend may have gotten lucky with a lazy prosecutor, but now you are facing down a straight-up killer. This is one of many factors that make the trial court process so dynamic, let alone what judge you are in front of. You may get a good deal because the prosecutor likes your attorney, is going on vacation, or is too hungover to get ready for trial. Many aspects are unpredictable.
The Jury Trial
Dallas, like many jurisdictions, can call up a jury at any time on almost any day of the week. Prosecutors and judges are comfortable in trial. It is more interesting than the normal docket day and they can avoid annoying phone calls and paperwork. An individual who chooses to go to trial should do so carefully, with a clear understanding of what the potential risks are. Many a defendant have turned down a reasonable offer only to secure a huge punishment verdict at their expense. In other counties, more planning is necessary to summon a jury, but the docket may be more wide open, so the judge may not be as keen on granting a reset.
Jury selection is the most important phase of trial. The group of 12 that end up in the box have likely already made up their mind which side they would like to see win before they are even sworn in by the judge. First impressions are key: the professionalism and preparedness of your attorney versus the prosecutor, as well as the key themes of your case that your lawyer is presenting, compared to the government. The jury is watching everything and they are making up their mind. The rest of the trial is where the jury looks for information that will justify the decision they have already made.
An experienced lawyer knows that most of the time they can only make a difference in the borderline case. Rarely can a lawyer can win the unwinnable case without the help of a prosecutor who tanks it. The key is knowing the value of the case before you walk in the courtroom and communicating that to your client. Testimony and arguments are much more interesting than jury selection and there are also sometimes surprises. But case evaluation, preparation, and jury selection remain the most important factors in jury trial success.
A mistake that many people make is picking only the facts and arguments that support their point-of-view on the case and ignoring anything to the contrary. Many people think that attorneys are there only to argue for their clients side regardless of conflicting evidence. In fact, the best attorneys take in all the facts, including bad facts, and make it all fit to support their client’s position. A jury sees through anything else and always wants to go with the truth giver in the courtroom.
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