The Tarrant County Criminal Process
This guide is an introduction into being charged with an offense in Tarrant County, Texas. It will outline the procedure for someone charged in municipal court, county court, and district court. The types of cases that end up in these courts. And finally, what you need to know moving forward.
Municipal CourtClass C Misdemeanors out of Municipal Court are different than all other types of criminal offenses in that the only punishment you can receive is fine only. This means that even if you are convicted there is no possibility of jail, only a fine. Municipal courts differ greatly from County and District courts. Generally, there are only 1-2 appearances before the case is disposed of. It is less formal, and can be handled without an attorney with greater ease. This does not mean you should not consult with, and possibly hire an attorney, before going to court on any matter. The best thing about Class C Misdemeanors is that if the case is disposed of properly an expunction is all but guaranteed.
County CourtCounty courts have a more formal procedure than municipal courts, and the punishment is more severe. County courts deal with Class A and B Misdemeanors, with the range of punishment being up to one-year in county jail. We have ten county courts in Tarrant County. There are certain courts like County Criminal Court No. 5 and County Criminal Court No. 9 that can be case specific. For instance, CCC 5 only deals with family violence cases, and CCC 9 takes care of all Veteran*s cases.
There will likely be anywhere between 2-6 court appearances in county court before the case is disposed. During these court appearances, the prosecutor will provide a plea bargain offer to your defense attorney. At that point, the decision to plead the case or try the case rests with you.
District CourtDistrict courts are even more formal than county courts. Furthermore, the punishment levels are the most severe. All felonies will be placed in a district court, and these felonies range from State Jail all the way to Capital Murder. Like the county courts Tarrant County has ten district courts. Unlike the county courts there are no case specific district courts.
In district court, there will be 4-5 appearances. These begin with a consultation appearance, then an evidence exchange, motions docket, status conference, and then pretrial hearings, if necessary. Each appearance has a different function. The consultation appearance is the first time the prosecutor and defense attorney have a chance to discuss the case. It is also very likely that the prosecutor will provide the first plea deal at the consultation appearance. Next is the evidence exchange which provides the opportunity to ensure all evidence has been provided to the defense. Motions docket is next up, and allows for the filing of any motions the state or defense might have a need for. These motions range from suppression issues, to evidentiary issues, to trial issues. Finally, the status conference appearance will either see the case pled, or see the case placed on the trial docket.
Once the case is on the trial docket it can still be worked out through a plea. The trial docket, though, simply begins the process for trial preparation. At that time, depending upon the issues within the case, a pretrial hearing might be necessary for suppression or evidentiary matters.
Case DispositionA question that is often asked during the case process is, *should I plead, or should I try the case?* There is no perfect answer to this question. Trials can be scary. But that alone should not deter someone from taking a case to trial. Instead, knowing all the factors and issues each case presents allows for an intelligent decision to be made.
For instance, there are many reasons pleading the case is advantageous. Whether it*s disposing of the case quickly, the evidence is overwhelming, or a trial is too risky and time consuming. Furthermore, pleading the case allows you to control the parameters to which you plead. This provides peace of mind in knowing exactly what your punishment will be, and for how long.
On the other hand, going to trial might be the only option. In Texas, trials come in two halves. First is the guilt/innocence half, and, if found guilty, the trial moves into the second half * punishment. Each half can be to either the judge or jury. Juries consist of six people at the county court level and twelve at the district court level. Choosing judge or jury is again a case specific decision to be made only after examining all issues and factors. There are positives to each; but, there are also negatives.
Trials in Texas can have up to seven parts: (1) jury selection, (2) opening statement, (3) State*s case, (4) Defense*s case * if any, (5) Rebuttal * if any, (6) closing arguments, and (7) jury deliberations. In Tarrant County, a county court trial will generally take place over the course of two days, while a district court trial can vary widely depending upon the case. It is important to have a plan of action for each part, and to be involved as much as possible.