Criminal District Attorney - Misdemeanors

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.

 

Misdemeanors

In Texas misdemeanors are classified as either Class A, B or C level misdemeanors. Class C misdemeanors are the lowest level offense and are generally punishable with a fine up to $500.00 and no jail time. They are handled at the Justice of the Peace courts or Municipal courts. Class B misdemeanors are punishable with a range of punishment of a fine up to $2,000.00 and/or 180 days in the County jail. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $4,000.00 and/or up to 1 year in the County jail. Both Class B and A level misdemeanor cases in Comal County are handled by Comal County Court at Law Number 1 or 2.

Arraignment --- At a misdemeanor arraignment, 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). If he pleads guilty or no contest, the Judge may sentence him on the spot or may reschedule the case for a sentencing date, which will give the probation department time to prepare a pre-sentence report including background information about the defendant and the crime, make a sentencing recommendation, etc. If the defendant stands mute or pleads not guilty, the case will be re-set for a pre-trial conference

Pretrial Conference --- In traffic and non-traffic misdemeanor cases, this is the defendant's second court appearance. It is a scheduled meeting between an Assistant District Attorney and the defendant (or his attorney) to determine whether the case will go to trial or be resolved with a plea. These meetings focus on resolving the case short of trial. The Judge and witnesses are not involved in misdemeanor pre-trial conferences. If a plea bargain is going to be offered by the Prosecutor, it is done here.

Pretrial Proceedings --- Many other events can occur prior to trial. Depending on the nature of the case, there may be pre-trial hearings on Constitutional issues (confessions, searches, identification, etc.). The issues are presented to the Court through written "motions" (e.g., Motion to Suppress Evidence, etc.). The judge must determine whether evidence will be admitted or suppressed at the defendant's trial, whether there is some legal reason why the defendant should not be tried, or decide other ground rules for trial. If the defendant has counsel at this time, a discovery packet with information on the case will be made available to the defendant's attorney.

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, then 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 misdemeanor jury trial:

Guilt/Innocence Phase of the Trial

  • 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;
  • the State through the District Attorney and defense attorney question the jurors about their backgrounds and beliefs (see voir dire);
  • the attorneys are permitted a limited number of "peremptory" challenges to various jurors (or an unlimited number of challenges for good cause);
  • after six acceptable jurors remain, the Judge administers an oath to the jury and reads basic instructions about the trial process, etc.;
  • the State gives an opening statement to outline her case and evidence to the jury;
  • the defense may give a similar opening statement, or wait until later in the trial;
  • the State calls her witnesses, which the defense may cross examine;
  • the State then rests;
  • the defense may call witnesses, if they want to, and the District Attorney may cross-examine them;
  • the defense rests;
  • the State may present "rebuttal" witnesses/evidence to challenge evidence presented by the defendant during his case;
  • the State rests;
  • the Judge gives the jury detailed legal instructions about the charged crimes, the deliberation process, etc., which is called the jury charge;
  • the State presents closing argument to the jury;
  • the defense attorney presents their closing argument to the jury;
  • the State may present a rebuttal argument to the jury to respond to the defendant's attorney's closing argument;
  • the jury deliberates and returns a verdict.

If the defendant is found guilty:

Punishment Phase of the Trial

  • the State gives an opening statement to outline her case and evidence to the jury regarding punishment;
  • the defense may give a similar opening statement, or wait until later in the trial;
  • the State calls her witnesses, which the defense may cross examine;
  • the State then rests;
  • the defense may call witnesses, if they want to, and the District Attorney may cross-examine them;
  • the defense rests;
  • the State may present "rebuttal" witnesses/evidence to challenge evidence presented by the defendant during his case;
  • the State rests;
  • 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;
  • the State presents closing argument to the jury; the defense attorney presents their closing argument to the jury;
  • the State may present a rebuttal argument to the jury to respond to the defendant's attorney's closing argument;
  • the jury deliberates and returns a sentence.

Comal County Criminal District Attorney