Criminal Justice in Texas: The Investigation

How does law enforcement investigate alleged crimes in Texas?

There are many ways police investigate crimes. Investigations depend on the type of crime, where the crime occurred, who is doing the investigating, and other factors. Some crimes occur right in front of a police officer. Other crimes are investigated behind the scenes while they are happening. Many investigations take place after a victim files a report. TV shows like the CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) series are fun to watch, but often the reality of a criminal investigation in Texas is much different.

At Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, our criminal defense lawyers in Killeen have been fighting for clients charged with crimes for 25 years. From the moment you become a suspect, or the moment you are arrested anywhere in Central Texas, our lawyers are skilled at asserting your rights and your defenses. Today, we want to talk a bit about how local, state, and federal law enforcement investigates potential criminal activity – and how we can help if they’re investigating you.

Who can investigate an alleged crime in Texas?

Per the Attorney General of Texas, “The Criminal Investigations Division is staffed by commissioned peace officers and crime analysts who undertake a wide range of investigations and activities to support detection, prevention, and prosecution of crime.” Peace officers are local, county, and state cops; crime analysts are basically everyone else who’s involved, from lab techs to crime reconstructionists.

There are different agencies that conduct investigations. In Texas, that may include:

  • Texas Attorney General
  • Texas Department of Public Safety
    • Texas Highway Patrol
    • Texas Rangers
    • Criminal Law Enforcement Division
    • Criminal Intelligence Service
    • Motor Vehicle Theft Service
    • Narcotics Service
    • Crime Laboratory Service
  • Texas Department of Criminal Justice
  • Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Office of The Inspector General
  • Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Department — Law Enforcement Division

You can find a full list of local agencies here.

The federal government also has several agencies who can investigate alleged criminal activity:

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)
  • The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Federal agencies investigate crimes that happened on federal land, across state borders, or to federal employees.

In most cities, according to the NY Times, the police generally spend much more time investigating traffic offenses and nonviolent crimes than they do violent crimes.

What happens when police observe criminal activity while on duty?

Many police officers observe crimes while they are on patrol. One of the most common examples is when an officer observes a driver speeding, swerving, and being unable to control a vehicle – to the point an officer suspects the driver of driving under the influence of alcohol. The officer will then give the driver field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests. Drivers who fail these tests will be charged with driving under the influence.

Officers may observe other crimes from retail theft to using drugs to violent crimes, like assault or homicide. When police do see criminal activity, they generally have the right to intervene to stop the criminal activity – but there are certain limits to what they can, and cannot, do.

What happens when a victim reports a crime?

Many investigations begin when a victim files a complaint with his/her local police. The police will normally speak with the victim and fill out a complete report. Officers and other law enforcement personnel will be assigned to investigate the victim’s complaint. The manner of the investigation and who investigates will vary depending on the nature of the crime and other factors. Crimes involving complaints of violence are generally handled differently than crimes involving drugs, which are handled differently than white-collar crimes and other nonviolent crimes.

For example, if a wife alleges domestic violence, or a woman reports a sexual assault, the police will normally go to the wife’s home and speak with anyone involved. They will also seek to find the person the victim identifies as the attacker and seek to speak to that person.

Generally, you should not speak with the police if you’ve been arrested. Even before an arrest, you do have the right to speak with a lawyer of your choice. Anything you say to the police can be used against you. When you’re under stress, you’re likely to say things that you shouldn’t.

What else do police do as part of an investigation?

In addition to speaking with the alleged victims, witnesses, and the person accused of the crime, the police will examine any physical evidence such as fingerprints, bullet casings, blood, bodily fluids, and DNA evidence. They will take photos and videos. Some physical evidence is sent to a forensics lab for analysis.

Another common criminal investigation process involves grand juries. These are a group of citizens, authorized by law to investigate criminal conduct to determine if charges or indictments should be filed. Grand juries generally have the power to subpoena people to testify and to obtain physical evidence. Defendants and defense lawyers normally do not participate in the grand jury process. Our defense lawyers do have the right to challenge grand juries that fail to comply with the state and federal laws that govern grand juries.


What are my rights during an interrogation?

Police and other law enforcement agencies will seek to question/interrogate anyone who is suspected of committing a crime and anyone who is arrested. If they’re coming to you to “chat,” you should speak with our experienced criminal defense lawyers before consenting to an interrogation. With limited exceptions, you have the right to remain silent when the police try to question you. Your assertions of your right to exercise your Fifth Amendment right to stay silent and your Sixth Amendment right to an attorney should be clear and unambiguous.

There are many dangers involved with police interrogations. The police are looking for statements and evidence they can use against you. Interrogators are normally trained in the art of obtaining a confession. There are many rules that govern interrogations. The police can’t physically intimidate you, promise you the prosecution or judge will be lenient, or violate other protocols – though often the police do just that. Note that it is not illegal for police to lie to you. Luckily, Texas requires all interrogations to be recorded from start to finish. Catching them in a lie may not be enough to have the charges dropped, but we can use it to help bolster your defense.

Are there rules for conducting searches and seizures?

Yes, there are rules regarding search and seizure. They exist at the state and federal levels too. People accused of crimes have rights, including Constitutional rights. When the police search for evidence and arrest people, they must comply with the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution which provides that:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

One of the defense strategies we may use is arguing that the search and seizure conducted by law enforcement was unreasonable, or violated your rights in some way. Often, the police fail to obtain a proper warrant. If that’s the case, we may be able to have your entire case thrown out – or have that evidence suppressed.

Do you have a criminal defense lawyer near me?

Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm is located in Killeen, at 701 W Central Texas Expressway. If you’re in custody, we’ll arrange to discuss your arrest at the facility where you are detained.

We’ll calmly and clearly guide you through each phase of the criminal trial process from the moment you’re aware you’re being investigated.

Speak with our respected Killeen criminal defense attorneys today

Here at the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, our seasoned criminal defense lawyers handle the full range of felony crimes. We assert every defense that can help you obtain a dismissal, including seeking to suppress any evidence that was illegally obtained during an investigation. Whether you’ve been arrested or are currently under investigation, working with experienced, strong criminal defense lawyers gives you the best chance at a positive outcome. Let us help. Contact us today by phone or by completing our contact form to schedule a consultation. Our criminal defense lawyers in Killeen uphold the rights of clients throughout all Central Texas, including Temple, Belton, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, and Waco, as well as McLennan, Coryell and Bell Counties.