Criminal Cases

What kind of cases does a County Attorney handle?
The County Attorney prosecutes misdemeanor cases.  In Texas misdemeanors are classified as Class A, B or C level misdemeanors. Class C misdemeanors are the lowest level offense and are generally punishable with a fine up to $500.00 and no jail time. They are handled at the Justice of the Peace courts or Municipal courts. Class B misdemeanors are punishable with a range of punishment of a fine up to $2,000.00 and/or 180 days in jail. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $4,000.00 and/or up to 1 year in jail. Both Class B and A level misdemeanor cases in Val Verde County are handled by Val Verde County Court-at-Law.

What is an arraignment?
At a misdemeanor arraignment, the defendant will be allowed to enter a plea to the offense charged. He may enter a plea of guilty, no contest or not guilty. If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty; the defendant is given an option to hire an attorney or request the court to appoint an attorney. The court may reschedule the case for a plea agreement docket to allow him the opportunity to discuss the case with his court appointed attorney.  If the defendant enters a plea of guilty or no contest, he waives his right to counsel and is given the opportunity to speak to the prosecuting attorney regarding his case. The County Attorney does not speak to anyone prior to an arraignment. All conferring is conducted in the courtroom and only after the defendant has been arraigned by the Court and the defendant has signed a waiver of counsel.

What happens at the Plea Agreement docket?
In traffic and non-traffic misdemeanor cases, this is the defendant's second court appearance. It is a scheduled hearing between an Assistant County Attorney and the defendant (or his attorney) to determine whether the case will go to trial or be resolved with a plea. These hearings focus on resolving the case short of trial. If a plea bargain is going to be offered by the Prosecutor, it is done here. 

What does a trial consist of?
Many other events can occur prior to trial. Depending on the nature of the case, there may be pre-trial hearings on Constitutional issues (confessions, searches, identification, etc.). The issues are presented to the Court through written "motions" (e.g., Motion to Suppress Evidence, etc.). The judge must determine whether evidence will be admitted or suppressed at the defendant's trial, whether there is some legal reason why the defendant should not be tried, or decide other ground rules for trial. If the defendant has counsel at this time discovery with information on the case will be made available to the defendant's attorney. The Val Verde County Attorney’s office has an open file policy. All written and recorded material is available during regular business hours for viewing and/or inspection.

A trial is an adversary proceeding in which the County Attorney must present evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is not required to prove his or her innocence or to present any evidence.

Both the defendant and the County Attorney (representing the State of Texas) have the right to a trial by a jury. Sometimes, both sides agree to let a Judge listen to the evidence and decide the case without a jury; this is called a "bench trial". In a jury trial, the jury is the "Trier of fact"; in a bench trial, the judge is. After the evidence is presented, the judge or a jury will determine whether the evidence proved that the defendant committed the crime. 

In Texas a criminal trial is a "bifurcated" trial. The first phase of the trial is called the guilt/innocence phase of the trial. After the presentation of this phase the jury, or the Judge if it is a bench trial, will only determine whether the defendant is innocent or guilty of the offense(s) alleged in the information. If the defendant is found innocent that is the end of the trial. If the defendant is found to be guilty then the next phase of the trial will be held. This phase of the trail is called the punishment phase. The defendant can elect to have his punishment assessed by the jury or by the Judge.