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What is a District Attorney’s Office?
- It is the duty of the Criminal District Attorney’s Office to prosecute all felony and misdemeanor cases that are committed in Kaufman County. Our job is to see that justice is done. Our office handles cases submitted to us by a law enforcement agency. We handle the cases through trial and all appeal proceedings.
- We do not represent any one individual. Instead, we represent the State of Texas and the citizens of Kaufman County.
How do I report a crime?
- 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.
What happens when a law enforcement agency files a case with the Criminal District Attorney’s Office?
- 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.
What is a grand jury and what does it do?
- 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.
What is a plea bargain and how does the process work?
- 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.
How can charges be dropped in a criminal case?
- The decision to dismiss a pending a 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.
Can a witness refuse to testify?
- 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.
When a case goes to trial, who determines if the defendant is guilty or innocent?
- 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.
The defendant has been found guilty, now what?
- 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.
Once the defendant’s punishment had been decided, is that the end of the case?
- 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.
Are all cases argued before the appellate court?
- 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.
If the defendant’s conviction is affirmed, may he seek other relief?
- 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.