Stages in a Criminal Case
You may be contacted by defense attorneys or investigators seeking to discuss the case with you. While you are free to speak about the case with anyone you choose, you are not required to do so. If you decide to discuss the case with the defense attorney, please contact the prosecutor assigned to the case prior to doing so. You are not required to discuss the case with a representative of the defense and may decline to do so and you may simply refer the defense attorney to the prosecutors office and decline to discuss the case with him/her.
The stages in a criminal case and their definitions are:
Examining Trial: A mini-trial where the court hears only enough evidence from both sides to establish whether or not there is probable cause to believe that a criminal act was committed by the defendant. There is not always an examining trial setting; sometimes the case moves directly to Grand Jury. If an examining trial is held, witnesses may be subpoenaed to appear.
Grand Jury: A selected group of twelve citizens, who meet for a six month term who consider whether indictments should be returned in felony cases. They are charged with the responsibility of deciding the issue of probable cause in a criminal case. Unless a defendant waives an indictment, Texas law requires action by the grand jury before a felony case can be brought to trial. The district attorney presents the outline of the case, and then leaves the room, giving the Grand Jury the complete case file. The Grand Jury then votes in secret to return a true bill (indictment) or a no bill (the case is found to be lacking sufficient evidence and is dismissed). The Grand Jury can reconsider a case which was no-billed only if sufficient new evidence has become available. Witnesses may or may not be subpoenaed to appear before the Grand Jury. If the defendant is subpoenaed to appear, he must meet with the Grand Jury alone; his attorney is not allowed to accompany him. Once the Grand Jury indicts the defendant, there is no need to hold an examining trial. Grand Jury proceedings are not open to the public and witnesses take an oath of secrecy before testifying.
Arraignment: After a felony case has been considered by a grand jury and an indictment returned, the case will be scheduled for an arraignment setting. At the arraignment, the indictment is presented to the defendant and the defendant is formally charged, told he should have an attorney, and that if he cannot afford one, one will be appointed for him. At this setting, a plea of Not Guilty is routinely given, (or no plea at all), and the first of several pre-trial settings is scheduled. Since a trial is held to establish the guilt or innocence of the defendant, if the defendant enters a guilty plea, he has admitted his guilt. There is then no need for a trial or the testimony of witnesses. The defendant who admits his guilt moves on to the punishment stage, and testimony may be needed at that time.
Pre-Trial Setting: A general term used to describe any court setting scheduled before a trial setting. At the pretrial hearing, the defendant and his attorney will usually advise the judge whether the defendant wants a trial or will plead guilty, if a trial is desired, and whether a jury is required. Certain motions concerning legal issues may be heard at a pretrial hearing and occasionally, a witness may be needed in a pretrial hearing and will be notified in advance of the setting.
Motion Setting: A court setting requested by either the attorney representing the defendant or the attorney representing the State and the victim, asking the court to rule on a legal issue. Examples of motions include a motion for continuance, to suppress evidence (such as improperly seized property), or to set a trial date.