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Once a defendant has been found guilty, he must have some punishment assessed. Again, the defendant can elect to have either the judge or jury determine his punishment. Both sides can put on more evidence at that time. There are times when the State and the defendant agree on punishment and there is no hearing.
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The district attorney analyzes and gathers evidence to determine if there are grounds for criminal prosecution of cases within their districts and presents cases at trial.
A district attorney in Texas has the following duties:
The Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney's Office is one of the statutory prosecuting authorities in the State of Texas. The primary prosecuting officers are: The County Attorney which generally prosecutes misdemeanor crimes and advises the county on all civil matters; a District Attorney who prosecutes felonies only, and; a Criminal District Attorney which combines the offices of County and District Attorney. Kaufman County has a Criminal District Attorney with the responsibility of prosecuting all misdemeanors and felonies while advising and representing the county in civil matters. The authority of the Criminal District Attorney is extremely broad. Within his/her jurisdiction, in this case Kaufman County, the Criminal District Attorney has sole discretion as to whether or not a case is prosecuted. A prosecutor can dismiss a charge or refuse to accept a charge on his own volition and there is no appeal.
The District Attorney's Office handles civil matters in addition to its criminal responsibilities. In Kaufman County the Criminal District Attorney's Office advises the county on civil issues and represents the county in some civil matters. The Criminal District Attorney handles all mental commitments, protective orders, extraditions, renders legal opinions to all elected officials in the county and reviews all contracts entered into by the county. This office also has the responsibility of representing the state in matters involving child abuse and neglect and all juvenile matters before the court.
The Criminal District Attorney's Office provides a 24 hour on call system for law enforcement. This allows law enforcement to have access to legal advice at any time. Our office encourages such consultation regarding arrests, searches and the filing of appropriate charges to ensure that crimes may be prosecuted and punished. It is only through such cooperation that our legal system can function to serve and protect our community.
Any crime should always be reported to your local law enforcement agency. The Criminal District Attorney’s Office is not a direct referral agency.
If you live in a city or town, that report would be made to your local police department. If the crime is committed outside a city or town, or in an area of the county where the Sheriff’s Office patrols, your report should be made to the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office. Of course, if your report is an emergency, call 911.
Felony: If the case is charged as a felony, a felony prosecutor will review the case to determine if it should be accepted for prosecution. If the case is accepted, it will be presented to a grand jury for consideration. A witness may be required to testify before the grand jury. The grand jury will either return an indictment against the defendant or no-bill the case. If the case is indicted, the prosecution proceeds until there is a resolution of the case. A no-bill means there is not sufficient probable cause to move the case forward.
Misdemeanor: If the case is charged as a misdemeanor, the case is filed in a County Court at Law or Justice of the Peace Court. The prosecution proceeds until there is a resolution of the case.
Texas law requires action by the grand jury in most instances before a felony case can be brought to trial. If the grand jury believes that there is probable cause to prove that a person has committed a felony, it votes to issue an indictment. A no-bill means that there is not sufficient probable cause to move the case forward. The District Attorney’s Office assists the grand jury in hearing evidence and preparing indictments, but the actual deliberations are secret. Only the grand jurors are present during deliberations and voting on the cases.
Plea bargaining can be a complex procedure, but in general, it occurs when the State and the defendant, through their respective attorneys, agree that the defendant will plead guilty to one or more pending criminal cases in return for a specific sentence, subject to approval by the court.
A prosecutor assigned to a criminal case will evaluate the facts and circumstances of the case and make a determination of what punishment (sentence) to offer to the defendant in return for his plea of guilty to the charge in the case. This recommended punishment is based on the prosecutor's view of the case and its facts and his or her experience in trial with similar cases having similar facts. The defendant's attorney will make a similar assessment and either advise his client to accept or not. If the defendant does not accept the offer, the case is set for trial. If the defendant accepts the punishment recommendation in return for his plea of guilty, a written plea bargain agreement is signed by the attorneys and the defendant, the defendant pleads guilty, and the court accepts the plea and assesses punishment in accordance with the plea bargain agreement.
The court, however, may not accept the plea or the plea bargain agreement, in which case the attorneys and the defendant may reopen negotiations or the case is tried before the court or before a jury.
The decision to dismiss a pending criminal case can be made only by a prosecutor. Prosecutors make independent professional judgments within the bounds of the policies of the Criminal District Attorney’s Office as to whether a case merits prosecution. If the prosecutor decides to file a motion to dismiss a case, the dismissal must be approved by a judge. A victim’s wishes will be considered in the decision to file, try, or dismiss a prosecution. A victim’s thoughts are always welcomed by the prosecutor assigned to a case.
A subpoena will be issued directing a witness to appear in court on a specific day and time for the purpose of testifying. If a witness refuses to appear after the subpoena is delivered, the prosecutor will ask that a warrant (called “an attachment”) be issued for the witness’s arrest and confinement in jail until the witness testifies. Willful failure to obey a lawful order of a court, such as a subpoena, is an act of contempt for which the witness may be punished by the court. After all of that, a witness will still have to testify. A witness must testify truthfully. False testimony as to important facts while under oath in an official proceeding (such as a trial) is a very serious felony offense.
In the State of Texas, a defendant can elect to have a jury or judge determine if he is guilty or innocent. If the defendant decides to have the judge make the determination, the State must agree or the trial will be by a jury.
A defendant has the right to appeal his case. In Texas, there are two stages of appeal in a criminal case. The first stage is to a court of appeals. For Kaufman County, the appellate court is the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. The defendant can further appeal his case to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin.
No. The appellate court may choose not to entertain argument by either the defendant or this office and will advise the parties that no argument will be permitted. The appellate court decides the vast majority of cases on the briefs and records without oral argument. Following the submission of the case, with or without oral argument, the appellate court will issue a written opinion either affirming (upholding) the conviction or reversing (overturning) the conviction as to the guilt and punishment assessed against the defendant. Occasionally the court will only overturn the punishment assessed.
Yes. The defendant may file a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court or in federal district court by filing a writ of habeas corpus. He may also file a writ of habeas corpus for relief in the Court of Criminal Appeals.