The Process of a Criminal Case

The Process of a Criminal Case

Hi, this is Charlie Roadman, Austin criminal defense attorney. I made a little presentation about the courthouse, a basic overview of the three primary characters involved in a criminal case. So let's take a look.

First, the judge. Now, the judge is going to be in charge of quite a few things, but let's talk about it first. First is your bond. The judge will make sure that you're complying with any conditions that you might have, and they'll make sure that you're showing up for court. Now, the judge will have a staff that's checking out whether you're complying with conditions and stuff, but that's the judge's job is to make sure you're complying.

The second thing the judge is really in charge of are the court dates. So even though a defense attorney will ask for a court date, or even a prosecutor could ask for a future court date to be moved, it's the judge that makes the ultimate decision. And they're going to make sure that the case moves forward so that it doesn't take years and years and years to resolve. Every court and case has a slightly different timeline to what they think is a reasonable amount of time. But typically a criminal court case, a misdemeanor takes roughly between eight months and two years.

Now, the judge is in charge of hearings and disputes. So if there's a suppression hearing, if there's a challenge to some of the evidence that the defense attorney brings up, the judge will listen to that and make the decision on what happens with that evidence. And also if the defense attorney and prosecutors, if they get crossways and the defense attorney thinks the prosecutor's doing something they shouldn't do, they'll approach the judge and ask the judge to intervene to make sure the law is followed. So this is like being a referee at an NBA basketball game. The judge is there to make sure both sides, including the defense attorney, are playing fair.

Now, the judge will also approve and finalize any plea bargain that gets offered and accepted. Now, this is sort of a misconception. Sometimes people think the judges are necessarily involved and they're the ones making the plea bargain. It isn't. It's the prosecutors. And we'll talk about that in a minute. But what the judge does do is approve of the plea bargain. And by that, I mean they can also say it's not tough enough and they can reject it. But usually, they approve it and then they'll finalize it with the plea. And that's when you get in front of the judge and plead either no contest or guilty to a plea bargain that's been offered.

Now, of course, sometimes a plea bargain is not accepted and then there's a trial. Whether a jury trial or a trial with just the judge, but the judge would be the one that oversees that trial. Okay, so that's the basics of what a judge does.

Now let's talk about the prosecutor. The prosecutor, first of all, they review the evidence. Now they're going to watch any videos, read the offense report the police officers made, gather more evidence, if they have to go get it from other counties or request. Anyway, they put together basically all the evidence to figure out what to do on the case.

And that is the next thing they do, they'll negotiate with the defense attorney. So the defense attorney and the prosecutor will try to figure out if there's some sort of compromise that can be reached. The defense attorney will explain why they think the prosecutor's case is weak and the prosecutor will explain why their case is or is not weak. This is what the majority of defense work is. It can take months and months and months of going back and forth with the prosecutor.

Finally, the prosecutor will decide what plea bargain they're going to offer. That can change over the course of the negotiation, but ultimately they'll come down to a final decision. This is what we're offering.

And if that is not accepted by the defendant, the prosecutor will be the one that prosecutes in the trial. So they'll represent the government and they'll try to convict the defendant of the charge.

So the third pillar here of a basic criminal defense dynamic is the defense attorney. And what they do is they also review the evidence. They're looking for quite literally the opposite of what the prosecutor's looking for. The prosecutor's looking for things that show that the client's guilty or the defendant's guilty. The defense attorney's looking for things that suggest that the defendant is not. And they're also looking for any sort of constitutional violations by the police officers involved. So basically, any loophole in the law is a defense attorney's job to look for.

They're going to advise the client. The defense attorney will tell the client what they should be doing, what they need to accomplish, and the first thing is stay out of trouble. I'll tell you that. I don't even need to know anything about your case to tell you that's the first thing your defense attorney's going to tell you. Don't get in any more trouble. But while this is going on, there are often things that a defendant can do to improve the chances that they get their case dismissed. And so the defense attorney will tell them what they can do.

Then the defense attorney also tracks the case through the system. This means that the defense attorney's in charge of making sure that the court dates get moved properly and that everything that happens while the case moves through the court system is right. You would think that would happen automatically, but it doesn't. People make mistakes. Clerks make mistakes. Judges make mistakes. Court admins make mistakes. All sorts of things happen. And the defense attorney will make sure it all goes through properly.

Now, as we mentioned with the negotiating, the defense attorney's job is to negotiate with the prosecutor and try to convince them to either dismiss the case through some sort of plea bargain. That's really everyone's first job. And if they can't get them to dismiss it, try to minimize the punishment as much as possible. Then that's when the defendant gets to decide whether they want to accept the plea bargain or not. The defense attorney will advise them on that, but ultimately it's the defendant's decision.

So the defense attorney will either fill out the dismissal paperwork, hopefully that's what the defense attorney is able to negotiate, or a plea paperwork if it turns out to be probation or jail time or something. They'll do the paperwork and make sure it's accurate and your rights are protected.

And then finally, the defense attorney will represent their client in a jury trial if that's necessary, if no compromise can be made with the plea bargain.

All right. That is the basic overview of a criminal courthouse. I hope that was helpful. My name is Charlie Roadman. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.