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What To Do If You Have Been Charged With a Crime In Texas
Is this the first time you have ever been arrested for a crime in Texas? It is important to know some important ground rules of how to navigate this process that is unfamiliar to you.
What you need is a guide. We have created this material to get you grounded and have a foundation of knowledge so that you are prepared to get your first offense behind you and clear your record.
Most of my first offender clients immediately express to me the overwhelming feelings of fear. Fear they will go to jail, fear they will have this arrest on their record forever, fear they will lose their job, fear they will never be able to get their good reputation back.
Then they tell me how frustrated they are that they cannot get any straight answers about what they should do and how they can avoid these nightmare scenarios. Although it is perfectly normal to feel this way, I hope this information will help you feel confident these fears do not have to come to pass. Let us jump right in:
A few years ago, I had a young man call me completely in panic mode. For the sake of anonymity, we will call my fictional client’s name John. John had received a call from a detective telling him he was suspected to have been involved in a crime and he just wanted to “talk” to him.
This young man was about to pull up to the police station and sit down with this detective and answer all his questions. I was so happy that John had called me before he did this so that I could answer all His questions. The first thing John asked me was, “Hello, Mr. Hampton?”
I Got a Phone Call From A Detective in Fort Worth, Texas. What Should I Do?
Now this question could have come from any number of thousands of people all over the State of Texas that are getting phone calls right now from a local detective wanting to investigate a possible crime but this happened to be a detective from Fort Worth, Texas in Tarrant County, Texas.
As I was speaking to this young man, he cut me off and said, “Wait, I think I’m going to go ahead and talk to him. I am already here and if I just tell him the truth, I will be safe, right?
Wrong! I explained to John that the detective is likely calling him for one of two reasons:
First, the detective already has enough facts in his mind to make up probable cause to get an arrest warrant and only wants John to confess to facts that makes the detective’s case stronger. Or,
Secondly, the detective does not have enough facts to piece what happened together and needs John’s help to “put it all together” for him.
Many times, detectives will say things like, “Hey man, I heard one side of the story, but I never got a chance to hear your side of the story. Why don’t you just share with me your side of the story and we can work all of this out and move on with our lives.”
Unfortunately, that is not at all what the detective would have had planned for John if he walked into the Fort Worth Police Department to answer the detective’s questions.
Unfortunately, if John had trusted this detective and walked into the Fort Worth Police Department, he would have been subjected to an interrogation. I explained to John that the detective would never have let him “tell his side of the story.”
Detectives are many times trained to interrogate witnesses to say anything that will match up with what they already have as evidence to make their evidence appear to be more credible. Additionally, I explained to John that even if he had tried to explain innocent facts that would clear up the situation, he could not trust that the detective would not misunderstand or perceive his facts to back up the detective’s theory of what happened.
I reminded John that everything he says to the detective will be used against him. Everything! The detective is looking to use anything he says against him, even if what John said was not what John meant.
Once John said it, who do you think the prosecutor and judge will believe – John or a detective? This is the dilemma John faced when considering whether to work with the detective. John still did not seem convinced…His next question begged more help, so he asked,
What happens if I ignore him or refuse to talk, will that look like I refused to cooperate?
Absolutely not! I told John he had nothing to be ashamed of or worried about for not answering the detective’s questions. Every citizen has a 6th Amendment right to counsel and a 5th Amendment right not to answer a detective’s questions.
What John does not say will never be held against him. It is what he DOES say that can be the problem. John now seemed convinced he should not talk to the detective but did not want to ignore him either. He then asked…
What Can a Lawyer Do For Me with a Detective That Matters? Can You Stop the Detective?
Good question, John. Is now a good time to get a lawyer involved? What are the benefits? I explained to John that the first thing a lawyer can do is reach out to the detective and asking some probing questions to find out what exactly the detective knows and if it appears he has anything of substance against John. If not, we know it is less likely an arrest warrant or criminal case is headed his way.
I reminded John that under the law, anything his criminal lawyer says to the detective can NOT be held against John. I could be his mouthpiece and share all the evidence we felt would help show he had nothing to do with this investigation and this could stop the investigation against him from moving forward.
I reminded John that even if the detective was dead set on getting a warrant for his arrest, it would be better to know that now so we could prepare him for how to handle the arrest warrant and make sure his bail bond situation was prepared ahead of time.
John did not like any talk about a warrant and became concerned about how he would take care of an arrest warrant. This led to his next question…
If the Detective Gets a Warrant, Is There A Way to Avoid Being Arrested?
Yes, John. I explained to him there may be a way to avoid having to go to jail to clear out the warrant.
Generally, there are 2 ways to handle an arrest warrant in Fort Worth or the Tarrant County area: (1) Turn yourself in to jail downtown Fort Worth at the Tarrant County Corrections Center located at 100 North Lamar Street; (2) Set up an attorney bond walk-through to avoid being arrested.
Fortunately for John, his offense qualified to for a walk-through or Waiver of Magistrate requirement. John interrupted and said, “Wait, I don’t understand what you mean by waiver of magistrate and walk-through.”
I started over with John and explained that under the Criminal Code, people are generally required to see a Tarrant County or local city magistrate judge and be arraigned before they are permitted to post bond.
However, the law makes an exception to this requirement if a criminal defense attorney is bonded through the Tarrant County jail (which The Hampton Law Firm can help you with).
Under those circumstances, the attorney can prepare paperwork to waive the magistrate requirement and the attorney and client can appear at the jail and process the paperwork without the client ever having to go to jail.
John was relieved to know he would not have to sit in jail to process his bond. After this conversation, I called the Fort Worth detective and learned that he had already finalized an arrest warrant for John and was planning to arrest him after their interview.
The next day, John and I met at the Tarrant County jail, processed his warrant and he met me at my office afterwards to answer more questions he had about the next steps. As we sat down at my conference table, John asked…
I am So Glad I Did not Have to Go to Jail, But What Happens After My Arrest?
I then took the time to explain the case filing process. John had made the decision to hire an attorney so I thought it was important for him to know that that the next step would be the detective would forward the file of evidence to the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office through the Intake Division.
The Intake Division is a division of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office that decides whether a case should be filed and what type of charge should be assigned.
I told John we could reach out to the Intake Division and speak to them about what they have received or will be soon receiving and see if we can talk to them about potentially rejecting the case. John quickly moved to his next thought,
Will I Have to Go to Court? What Should I Expect? Am I Going to Have to Say Something?
I explained to John that the courts in Tarrant County are usually slow and that we may be able to get him excused from his first court setting. Either way, although attendance at the criminal courts is mandatory in Tarrant County, he will never have to say anything, and we had no plans of him making a plea to anything because he was innocent of all charges.
I went over the basics that he needed to dress nicely for court to make a good impression and to make sure he was always a little early so there would be no issues being late because of parking.
This quickly led John to ask me the big question that had been weighing on him for quite some time…
If This Is The First Time I Have Been Arrested For A Crime in Texas, Will I Have To Go To Jail Or Have This On My Record?
I knew this was the big question that had been giving John sleepless nights and kept him in a constant state of anxiety. I reminded John that we have 3 ways that we planned to defend his case as a first-time offender: (1) Attack the Facts of the Case; (2) Examine any and all Diversion Programs to Get His Case Dismissed; (3) Conditional Dismissal; (4) Deferred Adjudication; or a (5) Jury Trial.
First, We Can Attack the Facts of John’s Case.
I reminded John we needed to sit down and go over all his police reports. I wanted him to read them thoroughly and tell me what sounded right or wrong and then we needed to compare what the reports were saying to the body cameras the police were wearing to see if the witness statements and officer claims lined up with evidence on the videos.
Very often, police officers will prepare their reports after the arrest and exaggerate or misstate facts in the police reports. John seemed concerned about their being videos but I reminded him that videos are very helpful because they expose police and witness mistakes that can exonerate him.
Additionally, I told John if we see problems with the initial police encounter and the search that took place afterwards, we can research criminal case law to find legal examples of how what the police did was illegal.
This can result in us filing a motion to suppress illegally obtained evidence and we may be able to get the case dismissed based upon these illegalities. I then remind John of a rarely used criminal defense tactic that can get his case dismissed quickly:
The Grand Jury No Bill: under this option, if we found some factual evidence that may show John did nothing wrong, we can present this evidence to a panel of citizens in Tarrant County. This panel is known as the Grand Jury and they meet at the downtown Fort Worth courthouse on 90-day terms to determine if probable cause was present to justify the arrest for every felony case in Tarrant County, Texas.
For instance, I told John if the search was illegal or if the police were unable to affirmatively link him to the illegal drugs found in the vehicle, he was a passenger in, we could convince the Grand Jury to No Bill the case.
A No Bill is the equivalent of a dismissal and allows the case to be resolved quickly and John would be eligible for an expunction upon completion of the statute of limitations.
John stopped me and said, “What if the police did everything right and the witnesses aren’t shown to be lying on the video?” I reminded John of our second defense:
Second, We Can Use Tarrant County Diversion Programs to Get His Case Dismissed
I reminded John that because he was a first offender, we may be able to get his case dismissed through a diversion program. I explained to him a few of the options available to him in Tarrant County: The Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP Program), The First Offender Drug Program (FODP Program), the Pretrial Diversion Program (PTD Program) and the Mental Health Diversion Program (MHDP Program), to name a few.
Each program has specific rules and timelines to complete the program, depending upon the type of charge you are facing. Potential clients often ask me should I hire an attorney now or wait until my first court date. I always respond the sooner the better because you NEVER want to miss the deadlines to get into these programs.
There are no exceptions to the deadline dates. John was facing a first-time drug case so we spent several minutes discussing the two immediate programs that would provide him the quickest dismissal of his criminal charges:
- The Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP)
- The First Offender Drug Program (FODP)
Third, We Can Negotiate A Conditional Dismissal to Have His Case Dismissed.
John was concerned that if, for some reason, he could not qualify or get into a Tarrant County Diversion Program, could he still get his case dismissed?
It is possible. I went over past examples with John how we had been able to work with prosecutors to get their case dismissed if the client was willing to do some conditions upfront.
For instance, we have had several first-time theft cases and first-time drug cases dismissed by have the clients complete a theft class and community service or by completing a drug class and clean drug tests.
If, however, it turns out we need to push the case even further, we could
Fourth, We Can Take Your Case to a Jury Trial
I told John that I felt confident we could get his case dismissed and eligible to be removed/expunged from his record without the risk of a jury trial but we needed to discuss this option just in case.
Under the law, the government must prove any charges against John beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury trial is a high risk/high reward proposition but sometimes it is the best option considering the circumstances.
A not guilty verdict from a jury is the gold standard for being exonerated and John would be immediately eligible for an expunction to clear his record.
John interrupted me at this point and said he really hoped a jury trial was not necessary but what if they do not dismiss my case. The conversation led to the next question…
Jeff, I am terrified of trial and do not want to take the case to a jury trial.
No problem. This is often what I refer to as a worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario still does not involve any jail time and most of the time there is a way to still seal your record through what is called a non-disclosure.
There are certain cases that just do not qualify for a pre-trial diversion program. After attacking the facts, examining the pre-trial diversion programs and weighing the risk of a jury trial the last option is deferred adjudication.
Deferred adjudication is a type of probation that is never a conviction if you complete the probation. If you complete the probation, you are discharged from probation and the case is dismissed.
Most misdemeanor cases allow you to seal your record upon completion of the probation. There are a few exceptions that require a 2-year waiting period.
John’s case was dismissed so John thought his problems were in the past. Unfortunately, I had to explain the next question….
If My Case Gets Dismissed, Does My Charge Automatically Come Off My Criminal Record?
I hated to tell John that the answer was no. It did not work that way.
It was important that John understood the rules for how a first-time offender would be able to get his criminal arrest off his criminal record.
I opened up the Texas criminal law for John and showed him that the rules for how quickly you can get an arrest off of your record depend greatly upon the type of charge you have and how it was dismissed.
For instance, in John’s case, he had a felony drug charge. Although we were able to get his case No Billed by the grand jury, John would have to wait 3 years from the date of the No Bill until his case would be eligible for an expunction.
If it had been a misdemeanor crime in Texas, John would have had to wait 2 years under the law for an expunction.
If his misdemeanor had been dropped to a class C deferred probation and subsequently dismissed, he would also have to wait 2 years from the date of the dismissal before he could get the arrest expunged from his record.
Finally, if the case had been resolved under a Diversion Program, John might have been able to get the arrest expunged from his record as soon as he completed the program.
Ultimately, John’s case was thrown out by the grand jury and he recently had his arrest record expunged. However, if he had not taken the right steps at the beginning of his case when the detective contacted him, the situation could have turned out differently.
If any of this true story sounds eerily similar to what you are going through right now, feel free to call my office for a Free Case Analysis and I can answer all your questions and guide you to your next steps.
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