Criminal District Attorney - Felonies

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

 

 

Felonies

In Texas there are four general levels of felony offenses, all of which, with certain exceptions, are punishable with a fine of up to $10,000.00. State Jail Felonies have a range of punishment, with incarceration of not less than 180 days and up to 2 years in a State Jail Facility run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

3rd Degree felonies have a range of punishment between 2 years to 10 years imprisonment in the Institutional Division-TDCJ.

2nd Degree Felonies have a range of punishment between 2 years to 20 years’ incarceration in the Institutional Division-TDCJ. 1st Degree Felonies have a range of punishment of not less than 5 years nor more than 99 years or Life imprisonment in the Institutional Division-TDCJ. There are variations within these grades for certain offenses. There are also capital offenses, which are punishable by either the Death penalty or Life in prison, with or without, the possibility of parole.

 

Arraignment --- As in a misdemeanor arraignment in the County Court at Law, the defendant will be given a chance to enter a plea to the charge: plead guilty, plead not guilty, or stand mute (i.e., remain silent, which is treated by the court as if the defendant pled not guilty). He or she can also waive arraignment which is also treated by the Court as if the defendant pled not guilty. At this time if the defendant has not hired an attorney the Court will further inquire as to whether the defendant intends to hire an attorney or wishes to see if they qualify for a court-appointed attorney. The court reviews the requests for court-appointed attorneys at the arraignment and will determine if the defendant is entitled to one.

Pre-Trial Conference and Proceedings --- After the arraignment in District Court the case is then set on the pre-trial District Court docket where the Assistant District Attorney and the defendant's attorney can confer and discuss a defendant's case to determine whether the case will go to trial or be resolved with a plea. In addition the District Court Judge may be asked to resolve pre-trial issues, some of which may determine whether the case will continue to a trial, be resolved with a plea, or be dismissed.

Trial (Jury or Bench/Judge)

A trial is an adversary proceeding in which the District Attorney must present evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is not required to prove his or her innocence or to present any evidence, but may challenge the accuracy of the District Attorney's evidence.

Both the defendant and the District Attorney (representing the People of the State of Texas) have the right to a trial by a jury. Sometimes, both sides agree to let a Judge listen to the evidence and decide the case without a jury; this is called a "bench trial". In a jury trial, the jury is the "Trier of fact"; in a bench trial, the judge is. After the evidence is presented, the judge or a jury will determine whether the evidence proved that the defendant committed the crime.

In Texas, a criminal trial is a "bifurcated" trial.  The first phase of the trial is called the guilt/innocence phase of the trial.  After the presentation of this phase, the jury, or the Judge if it is a bench trial, will only determine whether the defendant is innocent or guilty of the offense(s) alleged in the information or indictment.  If the defendant is found innocent, that is the end of the trial.  If the defendant is found to be guilty, the next phase of the trial will be held. This phase of the trail is called the punishment phase.  The defendant can elect to have his punishment assessed by the jury or by the Judge.

Here is a general outline of the steps in a jury trial:

Guilt/Innocence Phase of the Trial

  1. residents of Comal County are randomly selected from a Secretary of State list of licensed drivers, and are summoned to the Court as potential jurors;
  2. the State through the District Attorney and defense attorney question the jurors about their backgrounds and beliefs (seevoir dire);
  3. the attorneys are permitted a limited number of "peremptory" challenges to various jurors (or an unlimited number of challenges for good cause);
  4. after twelve acceptable jurors remain, the Judge administers an oath to the jury and reads basic instructions about the trial process, etc.;
  5. the State gives an opening statement to outline her case and evidence to the jury;
  6. the defense may give a similar opening statement, or wait until later in the trial;
  7. the State calls her witnesses, which the defense may cross examine;
  8. the State then rests;
  9. the defense may call witnesses, if they want to, and the District Attorney may cross-examine them;
  10. the defense rests;
  11. the State may present "rebuttal" witnesses/evidence to challenge evidence presented by the defendant during his case;
  12. the State rests;
  13. the Judge gives the jury detailed legal instructions about the charged crimes, the deliberation process, etc., which is called the jury charge;
  14. the State presents closing argument to the jury;
  15. the defense attorney presents their closing argument to the jury;
  16. the State may present a rebuttal argument to the jury to respond to the defendant's attorney's closing argument;
  17. the jury deliberates and returns a verdict.

If the defendant is found guilty:

Punishment Phase of the Trial

  1. the State gives an opening statement to outline her case and evidence to the jury regarding punishment;
  2. the defense may give a similar opening statement, or wait until later in the trial;
  3. the State calls her witnesses, which the defense may cross examine;
  4. the State then rests;
  5. the defense may call witnesses, if they want to, and the District Attorney may cross-examine them;
  6. the defense rests;
  7. the State may present "rebuttal" witnesses/evidence to challenge evidence presented by the defendant during his case;
  8. the State rests;
  9. the Judge gives the jury detailed legal instructions about the range of punishment, the deliberation process, etc., which is called the jury charge on punishment;
  10. the State presents closing argument to the jury;
  11. the defense attorney presents their closing argument to the jury;
  12. the State may present a rebuttal argument to the jury to respond to the defendant's attorney's closing argument;
  13. the jury deliberates and returns a sentence.

Pre-Sentence Investigation and Report

In the event of a bench trial, or if there is a plea to the charge, the Judge will request that the court's probation department prepare a report for the judge summarizing the crime, and the defendant's personal and criminal backgrounds. Generally, the victim is contacted for a recommendation of sentence. The probation officer concludes the report with a recommended sentence.