By: Mark Diaz
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How to Help Your Attorney Win Your Criminal Case
Getting arrested can leave you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, and it may be one of the most anxiety-inducing experiences of your lifetime. Studies have shown that facing criminal charges is among the top stress factors that adults endure in their lifetimes, falling after the death of a spouse and divorce.
Texas has a reputation for being tough on crime, and statistics support this assumption. Every year, law enforcement officials at the state, county, and local levels arrest more than 530,000 people, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). If you were one of them, you know that mounting a solid defense is absolutely critical.
You are probably also aware that retaining experienced legal counsel is the best way to leverage defense opportunities and other strategies. Having a Galveston criminal defense attorney to represent you even the playing field with the government’s prosecutor. What you may not realize is that there are certain tasks that you can handle to support your own interests. You and your lawyer are a team, and you may have more to offer than you think. Some information on how to help your attorney win your criminal case is helpful.
Texas Criminal Law Basics
As a preliminary matter, you should understand some key terminology, the roles of different players in criminal proceedings, and other general information. These details put into perspective the ways you can support your lawyer.
- The plaintiff in a criminal case is the State of Texas or the US government in a case involving federal crimes. The government is represented by the prosecutor, who works to obtain a conviction using evidence obtained by law enforcement.
- Upon being charged with a crime, you are the defendant in the criminal case. You are entitled to due process, equal protection under the laws, and other civil rights after being arrested.
- The prosecutor has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to each element of a criminal offense. There are multiple elements in criminal charges, and one important component of some crimes is the state of mind of the accused, i.e., intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or criminally negligent.
- In Texas, crimes are classified as felonies or misdemeanors. The most serious offenses, including most violent crimes, are designated as felonies. Misdemeanors involve less severe charges, but you could still face jail time and fines.
- Aside from criminal punishment, many people convicted of crimes will experience collateral consequences after serving their sentence. These are legal restrictions and disabilities that attach when you have a criminal history.
Stages of a Texas Criminal Case
Now that you have a grasp of the basics, it is useful to review the steps in the criminal process and how you can help at each one.
Police need probable cause to make an arrest, so they will conduct an investigation to collect enough evidence to meet this standard. The probe could be almost instantaneous, such as when officers observe you committing a crime and charge you. However, there may be activities to gather proof without your knowledge. During investigations, the best move for supporting your Galveston criminal defense attorney is refusing to consent to searches without a warrant.
Once they believe they have sufficient evidence, officers may arrest you; alternatively, you could face charges handed down via a grand jury indictment. During the encounter, the following tips are important for protecting your rights:
- Remember, police are always trying to gather evidence
- Do not make statements, answer questions, or offer any information to law enforcement.
- Exercise your right to counsel by contacting an attorney right away.
- NEVER resist arrest.
Arraignment and Bond
During your first court appearance, the judge will read the charges against you in open court and request that you enter a plea. There will also be discussions related to bond and bail for your pretrial release. Your lawyer will be at your side to advise you; if you have not consulted with one yet, you can still help your future attorney by pleading Not Guilty.
The court may schedule conferences and other hearings to narrow the issues at trial and determine status. Your lawyer may also discuss plea bargaining, probation, and other options for resolving the charges. At this stage of the criminal process, the most important task for you is showing up to all required hearings. This will be a condition of your pretrial release, so you could forfeit the bond if you fail to appear without good cause. Plus, skipping court does not create a positive impression for the judge.
During the pretrial stages of a case, both prosecutor and defense attorneys will typically file motions. These are official documents filed by the court requesting that the judge take a certain action. Your lawyer may file motions related to:
- Forcing the government to turn over evidence being withheld by the prosecution
- Tossing illegally obtained evidence out of court, since unlawful search and seizure is a violation of your civil rights
- Dismissing the charges for a lack of evidence or a variety of other grounds
Motion practice is extremely complicated, requiring an application of the law to the facts to convince the judge to side with you. Your attorney will handle the details, but your role is informational. You must be honest and fully disclose everything you know about the allegations because these specifics could provide grounds for a motion that benefits your position.
After resolving all motions, discovery matters, and pretrial matters, the court will schedule your case for a trial on the merits. The proceedings take place before jurors if you requested a jury trial, while the finder of fact in a bench trial is the judge. A trial also goes through several stages, including:
- Voir dire, i.e., picking the jury
- Opening arguments by the prosecutor, followed by your defense attorney
- The prosecution presents its case in chief, in which the government calls witnesses and introduces evidence
- Your defense lawyer will present exhibits, witnesses, and evidence in your favor once the prosecution rests
- Both sides will present closing arguments
- The jury receives instructions and deliberates the case
- The jury or judge issues a verdict, either finding the defendant guilty OR acquitting and dismissing all charges.
At trial, the most important task for you is dressing professionally, showing respect for courtroom officials, and always being polite when addressed. In most criminal cases, the defendant does not take the stand. The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution protects against self-incrimination.
Defenses to Criminal Charges
Knowing the high standard that the prosecutor must meet, you can see that an important defense requires you to take the offense. In other words, you must be proactive in preventing the prosecution from proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. By exposing weaknesses in the evidence, you create questions in the minds of the jury. In addition, other defense strategies include:
The most common defenses during the pretrial phase include illegal search and seizure and other misconduct by police, such as failure to read Miranda rights, excessive force, or abuse of a warrant.
Defenses to Raise at Trial
Once your case reaches trial, the most important defenses fall into two categories:
- Challenging insufficient evidence, which your lawyer would do if the government does not meet its burden after the prosecutor rests
- Raising affirmative defenses, including alibi, entrapment, or insanity. Plus, there is another opportunity to raise self-defense to defeat the charges.
With affirmative defenses, you should note that YOU have the burden of proof. Fortunately, it is lower than the prosecutor’s burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If you do have evidence to support the defense, the case goes back to the prosecution to show why it does not apply.
Other Strategies in Criminal Cases
Even if you do not have evidence or grounds to claim a defense, there are ways to get a favorable outcome. Through consultation with and assistance from your Galveston criminal defense attorney:
- You may benefit from working out a plea bargain to lower the charges from a felony to a misdemeanor, which reduces your punishment and the consequences for your criminal record.
- You might qualify for deferred adjudication, in which you enter a guilty plea initially and get the charges dropped later when you comply with all terms set by the court.
- You could receive probation in lieu of a jail sentence.
You Can Count on a Galveston Criminal Defense Attorney for Assistance
It might surprise you to learn that there are many ways you can help your attorney win your criminal case, though you can always leave the legal details to your lawyer. While your contributions and participation might not seem important, assistance with minute details and simple tasks can go a long way toward obtaining a favorable outcome.
For additional details on how you can support your case, please contact criminal defense attorney Mark Diaz. Individuals in Galveston, Greater Houston, and throughout Galveston County can call our firm at 409-515-6170 to schedule a free consultation. After reviewing your unique situation, a Galveston County criminal defense lawyer will explain the laws and ways you can help with criminal charges.