Most people who have been charged with a misdemeanor or criminal offense in Texas don’t know a lot about the law or the state’s legal system. This lack of knowledge can work against them, making a bad situation worse. That’s why it’s so important to seek the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney like Lisa Strauss Shapiro who understands the law and how it works.
It is crucial that those facing misdemeanor or felony charges in Texas understand the process. Knowing the terms can help them avoid making the mistakes that can lead to jail time, fines and other legal consequences.
Common Terms In Texas Criminal Court Cases
Many of the terms used by courts are unfamiliar to people who have been charged with a criminal offense. They have probably heard the terms used in the media, but don’t know their exact meaning and how they are relevant to their circumstances. If you are facing trial, don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer to explain the terms you don’t understand — it could save you a lot of trouble!
Here is a list of terms commonly used in Texas criminal court cases:
Appeal: Asking a higher court to review your trial to determine if any mistakes were made that had an effect on the verdict.
Arraignment: A defendant’s first appearance in court to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
Burden: The legal obligation by the prosecution to prove their case.
Closing Argument: The last opportunity a defense lawyer has to address the court and argue the strengths of their client’s case and point out the weaknesses of the prosecutor’s case.
Cross-Examination: The defense lawyer and prosecutor ask questions of each other’s witnesses.
Defendant: The person charged with the crime(s).
Deferred adjudication: A special type of probation or community supervision where the charges are dismissed upon completing the terms of deferred adjudication.
Direct Examination: When the defense lawyer or prosecutor questions a witness.
Dismissal: An order disposing of an action, suit, etc., without trial.
Felony: A serious crime punishable by confinement in prison or even the death penalty in the most extreme cases.
Grand Jury: A special type of jury assembled to determine whether criminal charges should be brought against a defendant.
Guilty: When a defendant admits to committing the crimes he is accused of or when a judge or jury finds that the accused committed a criminal offense or a traffic infraction.
Incarceration: Confinement in a jail or penitentiary.
Indictment: A formal accusation from a grand jury that charges a person with a crime.
Jail: A place of confinement for persons sentenced to short terms of confinement for misdemeanors or persons awaiting trial.
Jury: A body of carefully selected citizens assembled to hear evidence and decide a criminal or civil case.
Misdemeanor: Offenses punishable by fines not exceeding $4,000 or jail terms not exceeding 12 months or a combination of the two.
In Texas there are three types of misdemeanor charges:
- Class “C” misdemeanors: punishable with no jail time and up to a $500 fine.
- Class “B” misdemeanors: punishable by up to a $2,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail.
- Class “A” misdemeanors: punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Mistrial: A trial that is ended due to a procedural error or some other problem before a verdict is reached. The trial must then start over from the beginning.
Motion: A request made to the judge for a ruling or order.
Nolo contendere: When a defendant decides not to contest the charges against them.
Not Guilty: When a defendant pleas that they are innocent of the crimes they have been accused of, or when the judge or jury determines that the state has not proven that the defendant is guilty of a charge.
Objection: A protest or exception made by a party against an action or statement made by the opposing party.
Prosecutor: The lawyer who works for the Prosecutor’s Office as the representative for the State. The prosecutor’s job in criminal cases is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant has committed the crime(s) they have been charged with.
Plea: Statement made by the defendant declaring his guilt or innocence: guilty, not guilty or no contest.
Plea Bargain: An agreement or “bargain” reached between the state’s prosecutor and the defendant.
Prison: In Texas, prison is where serious criminals are incarcerated for sentences of several years.
Probation: Under probation, a person convicted of a crime avoids jail time as long as they follow the conditions of the probation as determined by the court.
Reduction: A type of plea deal where the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to a less serious charge.
Statute of Limitations: The period of time allowed by law for starting a case. The statute of limitations differ from state to state and by the type of case.
Suppress: A move to keep evidence out of a trial.
Testimony: Statements made by a witness or other party to the court under oath.
Verdict: The decision in a case.
Voir Dire: The process by which a jury is selected.
Witness: A person who testifies under oath as to what they saw, heard or did.
Answers to Your Questions About Texas Criminal Court Cases
What Should I Do if I am Charged With a Crime I Didn’t Commit?
The first and most important answer to this question is to keep your mouth shut. Don’t talk to the police or other law enforcement, prosecutors, or even friends and family. And definitely don’t post on social media. Anything you say really can be used against you later in court.
Next, if possible, gather evidence that could prove your innocence. Take pictures of the the scene, and get the names of witnesses.
Ask to see a warrant. You’re entitled to review it if there is one.
And finally, hire a criminal defense attorney who knows the area of law related to your case.
What Can I Expect From My First Meeting With a Criminal Defense Attorney?
In your first meeting, your attorney will ask you a LOT of questions in order to get to know you and your case. You may also be asked to fill out a written questionnaire. The questions may seem like they go on forever, but this is an important part of the process.
You’ll also be asked to bring documentation to your meeting. Documents such as arrest and bail paperwork, as well as written info regarding court dates are very important.
You should also bring a long list of your own questions to ask your lawyer, such as their experience with cases similar to yours, their success rate, initial thoughts about your defense, and more.
What is the Difference Between an Arraignment and a Trial?
There can be many steps to a criminal case, and the terms for each can be confusing. An arraignment is the first time you go before a judge, usually within 48 hours of your arrest. The judge will not pass judgement this time. Instead, they will read your charges to you and make sure that you understand them. This is also the time when you enter your initial plea of guilty or not guilty. This stage will determine what will come next in your case.
We Understand the Law
A successful defense strategy depends upon the knowledge and expertise of the defense attorney.
The Houston criminal defense lawyer Lisa Shapiro Strauss Attorney nearly 20 years of experience in the criminal justice system. A former prosecutor, Lisa has experienced the system from both sides of the aisle. Her knowledge of prosecutorial tactics, the legal system and the way judges make their decisions can make all the difference when it comes to getting a desirable outcome for your case.
If you or a loved one have been caught up in a Texas criminal court case, call 713-449-9922 or contact us online to arrange for a free consultation.