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 county.

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 Attorney.

The statutory duties of a Criminal District Attorney include the following:

  • 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.

Jennifer Tharp
Criminal District Attorney

 

Case Handling

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

Crime Committed

Law Enforcement Investigates

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 generated.

Law Enforcement makes an Arrest or files an "at large" report

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 District Attorney

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.

Warrant Issued

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.

Court Arraignment

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:

Misdemeanors

Felonies

Sentence

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.

Appeals