Most defendants arrested and charged with misdemeanor or felony offenses in Harris County will eventually have their cases go to trial, where they will be either convicted or acquitted of the charges against them.
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In the trial phase of their case, defendants can choose to have either a trial by jury or trial by judge. At the trial, the prosecutor presents the evidence against the defendant, while the defendant’s attorney (if they have one) will demonstrate why their client is innocent of the charges, or deserves lesser charges. The judge or jury will base their decision on the evidence presented at trial. In order to obtain a conviction, a defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
There are two phases to the trial process: the guilt/innocence phase and the sentencing phase (if found guilty). Defendants may have to wait months before they have their day in court.
However, before a defendant goes to court, they must first go through a pre-trial process that starts with their arraignment.
Arraignments are Part of the Pre-Trial Process
If you’ve been arrested in Harris County, Texas law says your arraignment should take place without unnecessary delay; generally, this means within 48 hours after your arrest.
An arraignment is a defendant’s first appearance in court after being arrested and charged. An arraignment might seem like a trial — the defendant appears before a judge — but there are many differences:
- At the arraignment, the judge will read the charges against you. They will not pass judgement on your case at the arraignment hearing. You won’t be convicted or acquitted of the charges at this time.
- The judge will make sure you understand your rights in the proceedings, including the right to legal representation.
- The arraignment is the time when you will enter your initial plea. If you plead not guilty, a trial date will be established and the judge will set a bail amount or release you on your own recognizance. You will prove your innocence at the trial. If you choose to plead guilty or no contest, the judge will usually assign a sentencing date.
How a Lawyer Can Help At Your Arraignment
You don’t have to have an attorney represent you at your arraignment, but it is strongly advised. Your attorney will be able to provide valuable legal advice and support during this time. You can let them do all the talking, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally saying something that could make your situation worse.
Also during the arraignment hearing, your attorney can petition the judge to have the charges against you dropped. Being able to get the charges dropped during the arraignment, without the time and expense of going to trial, can save thousands in legal fees.
Additionally, you can have your attorney file a waiver of arraignment, which means you will not have to be present at your arraignment.
Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Defense
Unlike your credit report, which renews every 7-10 years, an arrest can follow you around for the rest of your life. This may affect job applications, rental and mortgage applications, and even college entrance. There are two ways to have your criminal records not reflect past mistakes- expungement and orders of non-disclosure– but neither are easy to obtain, especially without the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Expungement effectively removes your arrest from the public record; it will be as if your arrest never happened, and you can legally deny that you were even arrested.
An order of non-disclosure, also known as “Texas record sealing”, does not completely wipe the arrest from your record, but it does hide it from the view of most interested parties.
In order to mount an effective defense, your attorney needs to know you and your case intimately well. You should be prepared at your first meeting with your lawyer to answer a LOT of questions. You may also be asked to fill out a questionnaire.
You will need to bring all relevant paperwork to your first meeting. Arrest records, court documents, witness contact info, and bail paperwork are all helpful to your attorney. Too much info is better than too little, so if you’re not sure, bring it along.
You should also come to the first meeting armed with a lot of questions of your own for your lawyer. Some good questions to ask might be:
• What are your fees and payment options?
• What type of criminal cases have you handled?
• What is your success rate?
• What are your initial thought on defense strategy for my case?
• What is your involvement level at each stage, including arraignment, filing motions, motions hearings, and trial?
• Who else from the firm will be involved in my case and can I meet them?
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the legal standard to find someone guilty in criminal cases in Texas. Prosecutors must convince a jury that there is no doubt in their minds that a person is guilty. That means, in turn, that the criminal defense attorney’s job is to demonstrate to the jury that there is a possibility that the defendant didn’t commit the crime. The defense only needs to convince one juror of this doubt to have their client walk away free.
It is important, however, to remember that “beyond a reasonable doubt” only applies in criminal cases. In civil cases, there is a different standard- “a preponderance of evidence”.
Speak With a Harris County Defense Attorney Before Arraignment and Trial
If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or felony charge in Harris County, it’s important to hire an experienced defense lawyer as soon as possible during the proceedings. Lisa Shapiro Strauss is a former county DA turned Harris County criminal defense attorney who represents clients in Houston and surrounding communities who have been charged with a wide variety of felony and misdemeanor charges. Her unique experience allows her to anticipate the prosecution’s moves and prepare an effective defense.
Don’t let an unnecessary conviction ruin your life. Contact the law offices of Houston criminal defense lawyer Lisa Shapiro to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case. Lisa will listen to your story, answer any questions you may have, and provide helpful, professional advice on the best way to proceed with your case.