Houston Texas Criminal Process


If you have been arrested in the Greater Houston / Harris County area for a Class A or B misdemeanor or felony offense, it is important to consult with a reputable criminal trial attorney who understands the Texas criminal process in Houston. You want to hire someone who will show you their actual case results and how likely they are to be successful in your case.

If you have an open warrant for your arrest in Harris County, it is important to hire a criminal defense attorney in Houston, TX to represent you throughout all crucial elements of your case. The attorney may be able to represent you in court to get a bond set so you can do a walk through in the processing center, so that you do not have to turn yourself in first at the processing center and wait for a judge to set the bond and then be processed out as that can take many hours.

In most cases, criminal defendants want an aggressive lawyer who will go to trial and fight on their behalf if their case requires it, who will try to negotiate an agreement to get the case dismissed so it can later be expunged, or who will suggest their client enter a plea deal if that is the best option for their case.

Texas Criminal Process Defense Lawyer in Cypress, Jersey Village, Tomball, Katy, Northwest Houston, TX

If you have been arrested for any criminal offense in Houston, James Sullivan is an experienced trial attorney who will make every effort to help you obtain the most desirable outcome in your specific situation by representing you throughout every important phase of the criminal process.

Call James G. Sullivan & Associates today at 281-546-6428 for a consultation about your alleged criminal offense in Houston, Cypress, Katy, Tomball, and surrounding areas of Harris County, Texas. Our firm will work to potentially get your criminal charges dismissed or reduced.

Houston Booking and Case Filing

After an alleged criminal offender has been arrested for a criminal offense in Houston, they will be held in jail until they appear before a judge. Immediately after the arrest, criminal defendants are taken to booking where their photographs and fingerprints are taken. Additionally, a fingerprint report, or rap sheet, is prepared that shows the defendant’s criminal history.

In misdemeanor cases, while the defendant is held in jail, the arresting officer files the criminal charges with the district attorney’s (DA) office. If the district attorney wants to pursue the case, the DA will prepare a charging instrument called an “information.” This is a written statement that is filed and presented on behalf of the state of Texas that charges the defendant with a crime. The information also puts the defendant on notice that they have been charged with a criminal offense.  After the information is processed, the case is assigned to one of the 16 misdemeanor courts in Houston through a random process.

In felony cases, the arresting law enforcement agency will also file charges with the DA’s office.

If a defendant is formally charged with a felony offense, their case will be assigned to one of the 26 felony (district) courts in Harris County.

Initial Appearance, Bail, and Arraignment in Houston

While the criminal defendant is held in jail, the jail will determine whether to set bail, to release the defendant from jail without bail (personal recognizance), or to hold the defendant in jail without bail. If bail is set, it can be posted at any time while the defendant is held in jail.

If bail is set, the amount can be posted by a bail bondsman, or another person. After the amount of bail has been posted, the defendant is guaranteed they will appear at any subsequent hearings or at trial. If they do appear as ordered, the amount of the bond, less any fees paid to secure the bond, will be returned to the individual who posted it. If the defendant does not appear, the amount of the bond will be forfeited.

After an information has been filed and the judge has decided whether to set bail or not, the defendant is entitled to an initial appearance, which is also known as the arraignment, where they will be advised of the charges that have been brought against them. The judge will also conduct a probable cause hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges against the defendant. If the judge finds probable cause, the case continues. If the judge finds no probable cause, the prosecutor may decide to present the case to the grand jury or dismiss the charge.

The judge will also identify the defendant’s lawyer if one was hired or may appoint a lawyer to represent the defendant and set bail conditions at the arraignment.

Additionally, your attorney will have an opportunity to argue the amount of bail that should be set, and if the prosecutor has requested the defendant be held in jail, your attorney will also argue for your release. At the end of the arraignment, the defendant will enter a plea of not guilty, nolo contendere, or guilty, and will be informed of the date of their next court appearance.

Between the first and second court settings, these charges usually will then be presented to the grand jury to decide if there is enough evidence to charge the defendant with the crime. If the grand jury does decide there is enough evidence, they will file an indictment. This charging instrument is a written statement that formally accuses the person named of the criminal offense. The grand jury is a private proceeding that is comprised of a panel of citizens who are randomly selected to review criminal complaints provided by the police.

If the grand jury decides to true bill the alleged offender, or formally charge them, the grand jury has determined there is sufficient evidence (probable cause) to charge the defendant with the alleged criminal offense and will issue an indictment. If the grand jury decides to no bill the alleged offender, the defendant will not be charged with a criminal offense because the grand jury did not find probable cause to proceed with the case.

Criminal Process and Pre-Trial Negotiations in Houston

Prior to any appearances, hearing, or trial for the defendant’s criminal charges, the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor will have an opportunity to discuss any pretrial negotiations or enter a plea deal. They will also be able to enter a plea deal at the arraignment if this is in the defendant’s best interest.

The defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor will determine if there are any immediate reasons to dismiss the case. More commonly discussed prior to trial, a plea deal is a resolution of the case where both the prosecutor and the defendant agree to a certain punishment without ultimately having a trial to determine the defendant’s guilt. Additionally, at any of these pretrial negotiations, the case may be reset, postponed, rescheduled, or a continuance may be requested by either party.

Houston Hearings, Appearances, and Pre-Trial Motions

After the defendant is released from jail on bail or bond, they will be informed of their next hearing date at their arraignment. The defendant is required to appear on the date and time where they were instructed to appear, or else they will risk losing the amount of bond and a warrant will be issued for their arrest.

After any pretrial negotiations, but before trial, the court will set a date to hear all pretrial motions filed by both sides. The defendant’s attorney can file any motions arguing why the case should be dismissed or to suppress certain evidence. The most common pre-trial motions filed on behalf of a defendant can include any of the following:

  • Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause
  • Motion to Exclude a Non-credible Witnesses’ Testimony
  • Motion to Exclude the Defendant’s Confession
  • Motion to Strike Prior Convictions
  • Motion to Suppress Illegally Obtained Evidence

Houston Criminal Trial

If a defendant has rejected all pre-trial negotiations, the case has not been dismissed, and the defendant has pleaded not guilty to an alleged criminal offense, the case will be set for trial. The defendant can choose to have a bench trial or a jury trial.

A bench trial is a trial without a jury where only the judge determines if the defendant is guilty or innocent. Additionally, in bench trials, the defendant waives any error in the case upon any subsequent appeals.  A jury trial is comprised of a panel of 12 jury members for felony cases and six jury members for misdemeanor cases. The jury members are citizens in the county where the trial is held and are chosen through a process called voir dire (jury selection).

After the jurors are seated, the guilt/innocence phase of the trial will begin. This phase involves the presentation of all evidence, and all witnesses are called to testify. The prosecutor has the burden of proving the defendant committed every element to the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very high burden of proof and often difficult to meet. The defense does not have to prove anything.

In order to convict a defendant, all jurors must unanimously agree the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If they do not all agree, the jury is called a hung jury and the judge must declare a mistrial. The case will then later be retried if the prosecutor believes another jury will be able to reach a unanimous decision. The prosecutor also could dismiss the charge or offer the defendant a deal on a reduced charge instead of having another trial.

If the defendant is found guilty, the punishment phase of the trial will occur next. This phase is used to determine the defendant’s punishment for their alleged offense. Prior to the beginning of trial, the defendant must choose whether to go to the judge or the jury to determine their punishment.

If the defendant believes a legal error occurred in the trial based on the judge’s instructions to the jury or for permitting inadmissible evidence, they can file an appeal to the next highest court. The criminal appeal is not a pre-trial rehearing of the evidence.

Find a Houston Criminal Trial Attorney | James G. Sullivan & Associates

Contact us today for a consultation about your arrest and criminal charges in Harris County in Texas. James Sullivan is a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in Houston who will make every effort to fight for you at every stage of the criminal process.

Contact James G. Sullivan & Associates today at 281-546-6428 for a consultation about your alleged offense in Houston, Cypress, Katy, Tomball, and surrounding areas of Harris County, Texas. Our firm will work with the goal to get your criminal charges dismissed, won at trial, or reduced.