Travis County Criminal Process

criminal defense process austin defense lawyerHere are the steps in the criminal justice system, from getting your loved one out of the Travis County Jail to resolving his case.

If your loved one is in jail for the first time, has a stable job and residence, and can name four references who can say what his street address is and that he is responsible and will show up to court when he should, then he will probably have no problem obtaining a personal bond.

Even if it’s your loved one’s second or third arrest for DWI, he can probably get out.  That will probably mean additional bond conditions, which could include an ignition interlock device, or a portable alcohol monitor, or a SCRAM ankle monitor, all of which are supposed to detect alcohol.

Parts of the Criminal Process in Travis County

How Can A Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help With Waiving Magistration

A lawyer can help speed up getting a personal bond in Travis County by interviewing the inmate soon after the arrest and waiving “magistration.” That’s what we call it in Travis County when a group of people who just got arrested are brought into a small courtroom inside the jail. There, an Austin Municipal Court judge reads them all their rights, tells them what they are charged with, and asks each one if he wants a lawyer appointed to represent him.

By “waiving magistration,” a criminal defense lawyer tells the judge “You don’t need to bring my client into your courtroom to read him his rights and so on. Please just let him out of jail.”

A criminal defense lawyer can also try to persuade the judge not to make his client comply with bond conditions that would cause an unfair or unnecessary expense.

Travis County Court Administration Court Date

After someone is released from the Travis County Jail, the next step is one or more County Court Administration court dates. The best analogy for what is going on is a pipeline. The police make a lot of arrests. So probable cause affidavits, offense reports, and videos get poured into the pipeline. As these documents move along the pipeline, staff inside the prosecutor’s office add criminal history records and some other internal records, and then finally the case winds up on the desk of a prosecutor.

While the records flow through the pipeline, the County Court Administration court dates simply keep track of the case and the defendant.

This is where the misdemeanor prosecutor decides whether to file a charge against the defendant. If he does, he signs some paperwork telling the defendant what charge he faces. The paperwork spells out exactly what the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Then the paperwork gets filed in the Travis County Clerk’s office, and the case is randomly assigned to one of several different County Courts at Law.

Unfiled Docket

The unfiled docket is a lot like the County Court Administration court dates — not a whole lot happens.

Many things cause delays.

If the police got a sample of your blood, you’re usually waiting for the Austin Police Department crime lab to test your blood for alcohol.

If your blood was drawn, but the officer didn’t suspect that you’d been drinking, then your blood was sent to the Department of Public Safety crime lab to test your blood for drugs.

Either way, there’s going to be a delay. The delay will be shorter with the Austin Police Department crime lab. The delay can be longer if it’s with the DPS crime lab.

You might ask “why is this taking so long?” The simple answer is that the government doesn’t want to spend enough money on doing forensic science correctly and efficiently.

First Pretrial Conference Court Date

A Pretrial Conference 1 court date is often when your attorney gets a copy of the offense report, breath or blood test results, the video, the computer-assisted dispatch report, and a crash report, if you were in an accident.

You don’t need to go to the Pretrial Conference 1. As long as your lawyer shows up and gets a new date for your case, you’re fine.

If you don’t have a lawyer, you must show up. If you don’t show up, the judge will forfeit your bond and issue a warrant for your arrest.

Second Pretrial Conference Court Date

Some of what goes on at a Pretrial Conference 2 happened at the Pretrial Conference 1. If, for example, the prosecutor did not have a copy of the computer-assisted dispatch report at the Pretrial Conference 1, then those things might be available at the Pretrial Conference 2.

Some of what happens at a Pretrial Conference 2 is that your lawyer is obtaining or reviewing medical records that relate to your ability to do the standardized field sobriety tests. Sometimes what is going on around the time of the Pretrial Conference 2 is that you, the client, are working on getting evaluated by TCCES. Very often, you will be working on completing the DWI Education Class.

Read more about how you can help your DWI case.

Third Pretrial Conference Court Date

By the Pretrial Conference 3, your lawyer should sit down to negotiate your case with the prosecutor if he hasn’t already. If you have completed the classes, your lawyer will give copies of the certificates of completion to the prosecutor. If at the time of your arrest you had medical conditions that interfered with your ability to do the field sobriety tests, your lawyer might show those records to the prosecutor.

If the officer who arrested you has a significant disciplinary history, then your lawyer should already have learned that and be willing to trade the disciplinary records for a dismissal.

Your lawyer should already have reviewed your video in detail and be prepared to give his perspective on how well you performed on the field sobriety tests. He should point out any reasons why the officer had no reasonable suspicion to pull you over. He should point out issues such as an unreasonably prolonged detention.

Very often, the prosecutor will ask the defense attorney what he or she wants. So be clear at the start with your lawyer about what you want.

Sometimes, the prosecutor will say “no.” Instead of giving your lawyer what you want, the prosecutor will make an offer that he or she believes would be fair, but not what you want.

Sometimes, the prosecutor will say “maybe.” Instead of giving your lawyer what you want, the prosecutor will offer to watch the video in the case and then make an offer.

Sometimes, the prosecutor will say “yes.” And sometimes, the prosecutor will say “yes, but.” By “yes, but,” I mean that the prosecutor will basically agree to what you want, but the prosecutor wants to add extra conditions to safeguard the public.

Court Date For Pretrial With Witnesses

A pretrial with witnesses court date is to allow the court to resolve legal issues, some of which I have already mentioned. It could be that when the officer stopped you, he had no reasonable suspicion to do so.

An example of that would be if he claimed that certain driving was a violation of the traffic laws when it really wasn’t.

It could be that he unreasonably prolonged the detention. It could be that he arrested you without probable cause.

It could be that he, after arresting you, didn’t read you your rights before interrogating you.

It could be that, before arresting you, and without your consent, he searched your car without probable cause and found some contraband.

If the officer’s testimony at the Administrative License Revocation hearing contradicts the video, then your lawyer may question him about the same matters again to see if he gives answers consistent with his ALR testimony.

What Happens If Your Case Goes To Jury Trial?

By the time a case goes to jury trial, the time for negotiation is pretty much over. What is left is a fight. I don’t think it does defendants any good to have an attorney with a reputation for setting cases for jury trial only to then settle the case just before a jury is selected. If a defendant sets a case for a jury trial, he should mean it. Sometimes, shortly before trial the State will offer something significantly better than previous offers. But don’t count on that.

Usually, on a Monday or Wednesday afternoon, a group of 30 potential jurors comes into the courtroom. The prosecution typically gets 30 to 45 minutes to talk to them and the defense then gets an equal amount of time.

The general rule is that the State gets to do everything first.

After a jury is selected, the State reads the charging instrument to the jury. A “charging instrument” is a sheet of paper that formally charges the defendant with a specific crime. Then the defendant and his lawyer stand and the defendant enters his plea of “not guilty.” Then the State makes its opening statement. The defense can make an opening statement then (I always do), but the defense can also delay its opening statement until it begins to present evidence.

Once both sides have made opening statements, the prosecution puts witnesses on the stand and asks them questions on direct examination. Typically, questions on direct examination should be sort of like a journalist’s questions: the who, what, where, when, why, and how kinds of questions.

Then the defense begins cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses, taking each in turn. Cross-examination questions are typically “leading,” i.e., they suggest their own answer. An example would be “isn’t it true that before you offered the preliminary breath test, you had already decided to arrest the defendant?”

Once the State has called every witness whom they wish to present, and offered every item of physical evidence they wish to present, it rests.

At that point, the defense may begin to call its own witnesses, if the defense puts on any evidence at all. Of course, the defense has no burden to disprove the prosecution’s evidence. If the defense believes that the prosecution’s case is too weak to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, then the defense can simply rest also.  It just depends upon the case.

After both sides have rested and closed, final arguments begin. Here is the exception to the rule about the prosecution always going first. With final arguments, the prosecution not only goes first, it also goes last. After the prosecution’s first summation, the defense makes its final argument, and then the prosecutor makes his second summation.

Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer William B. Mange Will Fight For You

William (Bill) has handled every level of criminal case there is, from capital murders to the lowest-level misdemeanors. He has handled felony intoxication manslaughter cases, felony intoxication assault cases, felony DWI cases, misdemeanor DWI cases, and DUI (minor driving under the influence) cases.

Attorney Mange has been Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 1996. He has taught Austin Police detectives about warrantless arrests. He has taught members of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association how to defend and win DWI breath test cases. He has taught trial advocacy at the University of Texas School of Law.

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, call Bill Mange at 512-451-5885 to schedule a free consultation.