Criminal District Attorney - Case Handling
A Criminal District Attorney is a
statutorily created office that is legally bound to not only handle all
criminal matters for the designated county but also all civil matters
related to representation of the county, county officials, and all
associated matters. The Texas Constitution provides for the office of County Attorney in each
However, the legislature may abolish the office of County Attorney by establishing a
Criminal District Attorney for such a county.
This legislative change took place in Comal County in 1997.
Prior to this, Comal County had a County Attorney and a District
The statutory duties of a Criminal District Attorney include
- Represent the State of Texas and victims of crimes in all criminal cases in the District Courts, County Courts-at-Law, and Justice Courts and in appeals therefrom.
- Represent the best interests of our children in Child Protective Services cases.
- Represent the victims of domestic abuse by obtaining protective orders against abusive family members.
- Represent the State of Texas and victims of crimes in ensuring that justice is rendered for juveniles accused of criminal offenses.
- Provide County Officials with written opinions or advice relating to the official duties of that official.
Criminal District Attorney
The following is an outline of how a typical
criminal case progresses through our system in Comal County, Texas (USA). If you are
in a different state or country, criminal cases may be handled very
differently because procedures and terms vary from jurisdiction to
jurisdiction. Please consult your local prosecuting authority to learn
how your local case would be handled.
To view a flow chart diagram of how a case works
its way through the District Attorney's Office, please click on this
link: Case flow Chart
Law Enforcement Notified
Most reported crimes are investigated by the local
police, the county sheriff or the state police. A few types of crime
(e.g., criminal non-support, public health related crimes, etc.) may be
investigated by other agencies
Investigation may include interviewing victims,
witnesses, suspects; collecting physical evidence; visiting, viewing,
photographing, measuring the crime scene; identifying suspects through
line-ups ... etc. From this initial investigation a police report is
Law Enforcement makes an Arrest or files an "at
When a crime is committed in a police officer's presence -- or he has
probable cause to believe that certain misdemeanors or any felony was
committed that he did not see happen --- an officer may arrest a suspect
on the spot without an arrest warrant. The officer will later submit a
report with the Criminal District Attorney's Office if an arrest was
made or will file a report "at large" when the defendant has not yet been arrested, suggesting potential
charges to be authorized.
Law Enforcement Report Reviewed by Criminal
Most felony cases are discussed with the reporting
law enforcement agency during a meeting between the Criminal
Investigation Divisions of the agency and our office. Our office will
either accept the felony cases at this time or
request that further investigation be done before the case is accepted.
At this time many of the misdemeanor reports are handed directly
to our department as well. Misdemeanor cases are also dropped off with
our department at other times and other agencies bring or deliver their
felony and misdemeanor cases to our department as well.
This is generally the first time that the Criminal
District Attorney's office is involved in a case, unless he/she reviewed
a search warrant or visited the crime scene. At this stage, the
Prosecutor determines whether a person should be charged with a crime
and, if so, what the crime should be. (Police do not issue charges,
prosecutors do.) An Assistant District Attorney (ADA), working at the
direction of the Criminal District Attorney, must thoroughly review all
reports and records concerning the case, including witness statements.
The ADA also reviews the suspect's prior criminal or traffic record.
Occasionally, the reviewing ADA may send the case back to the law
enforcement agency to conduct additional investigation or request
supplemental information be obtained.
Information or Indictment Issued
Information's are charging instruments used in
misdemeanor cases to allow the County Courts at law to obtain
jurisdiction of both the case and the defendant. The Criminal District
Attorney can issue a charge on a Information if he reasonably believes
that probable cause exists that the suspect committed the offense. But,
most District Attorneys apply a higher standard -- whether she/he
reasonably believes that she/he can prove the charge beyond a reasonable
doubt at trial with the information known at that time.
Indictments are the charging instruments used in
felony cases and may only be obtained by a presentment of a felony case
to a Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is comprised of 12 citizens of Comal
County who will hear and act upon the cases presented by the Criminal
District Attorney's office. The votes of the Grand Jury are conducted in secret.
No one other than a
member of the Grand Jury may be present when they decide, if they do, to
present a true bill of indictment. It takes 9 of the 12 to vote for this
indictment and the indictment must be signed by the foreperson of the
Grand Jury. If the Grand Jury decides not to present a true bill of indictment, the case is
considered to be "no billed". A Grand Jury may also pass on voting on a case and require an
agency, by acting through the Criminal District Attorney, to further
investigate the matter before bringing it back to be presented to the Grand Jury.
When the Complaint or Indictment is filed in the
County Court at Law (complaint) or in the District Court (Indictment) the Judge then signs a warrant --- an
order to bring the defendant before the court. In many of the cases a bond had previously been set by a
Magistrate or a Judge and the defendant posted bond and is out of jail
awaiting the disposition of their case in Court. In that instance they will continue on bond unless for some
reason the Judge increases the amount of the bond or revokes the bond of
the defendant for failing to abide by the conditions of the bond.
Suspect Arrested (if not already in custody)
The delay between the date of the crime and the
defendant's arrest after indictment or the filing of a complaint can
take any length of time.For
example if the defendant's whereabouts are unknown, or if he/she has
left the State of Texas. A notice of the warrant is placed into the various law enforcement
agencies databases and the defendant may be arrested on that warrant
anywhere, including out of state.
This is the first court appearance for any
misdemeanor or felony. After the defendant is charged by complaint or by
indictment, the suspect appears in either the County Court at Law or the
District Court for arraignment. At arraignment, the defendant is
told what the charge(s) is (are) and the maximum penalty if convicted,
and is advised of his constitutional rights to a jury or bench trial,
appointed attorney, presumption of innocence, etc. The defendant may
waive arraignment in court by filing a document. All further pre-trial
procedures are determined by whether the defendant is charged with a
felony or misdemeanor:
Click on the listings for Misdemeanors, Felonies,
and Appeals below for more detail:
Sentencing in Texas varies with the crime. The
ranges of punishment are set by the State Legislature and sentences are
generally at the judge's discretion. If the defendant goes to the jury for punishment, the judge will
follow the jury's sentencing recommendations. If there is a bench trial,
a plea or an election by the defendant to have the Judge sentence
him/her if found guilty by the jury, the judge will consider the
information in the pre-sentence report before determining the sentence. A Judge is not bound to sentence a defendant to the terms of a
plea bargain agreement between the State and the defendant. If he "breaks" the agreement by sentencing the defendant to
something harsher than the agreement, the defendant may recall his plea
of guilty to the charge and the process begins all over again. The
parties may correct factual errors in the pre-sentence report and offer
additional evidence relevant to the judge's sentencing decision. The judge may consider different alternatives, such as a fine,
probation, community service, a sentence to jail or prison, or a
combination. The judge must also order the defendant to make restitution
to any victims who have suffered financial harm.