Criminal Justice in Texas: What Happens After a Trial
What happens once a verdict is rendered in a criminal trial?
The ideal end of your criminal case is having those charges dropped before you ever have to worry about going to trial. Second to that is the jury or a judge finding that you are not guilty of the criminal charges. That is what Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm does from the moment you hire us: fight against those charges so you walk away free and clear.
But let’s be honest: there are times where a dismissal or “not guilty” verdict won’t happen. What you should know, though, is that you still have some options at the end of your criminal defense trial in Central Texas. For some crimes, usually nonviolent or first-time offenses, you may be eligible for diversion programs. Some folks may also be eligible for drug courts that focus on rehabilitation, not incarceration. Some may be able to appeal the decision. We’re going to look at every option you have so we can make smart, clearheaded decisions together about what comes next.
How can we help?
- What happens if the jury or judge rules in my favor?
- What happens if I’m found guilty?
- Do I have a right to file an appeal?
- What is the difference between probation and parole?
- Are there alternatives to prison?
- Do you have a criminal defense lawyer near me?
What happens if the jury or judge rules in my favor?
Generally, the charges can be dismissed against you before or even during a trial in several ways:
- The prosecution could withdraw the charges. This may be because it knows it can’t prove its case. They may determine someone else committed the crimes, or that there are mitigating circumstances.
- The judge could dismiss the charges. Perhaps the court finds that there is not enough evidence to believe you are guilty of the crimes. If you have a bench trial, the judge could acquit you directly.
- A jury could acquit you. This means the jury believed there was reasonable doubt that you were guilty of the crime.
After the withdrawal, dismissal, or an acquittal, you should be released from prison if you were in custody. Generally, you should be protected from prosecution for the same criminal offense based on the double jeopardy provision of the US Constitution. We’ll explain if any exceptions apply.
What happens if there’s a mistrial?
Sometimes things go off the rails for the prosecution, or the jurors just can’t help themselves, and they start blabbing about the case. Sometimes it comes out that someone (or multiple someones) tampered with the evidence, or that the court didn’t have jurisdiction, or there was a hung jury, etc.
When these instances occur, it’s up to the prosecutor to decide if the office wants to retry the case. If they choose not to, the charges against you may be dropped entirely. It’s also possible to make a plea bargain rather than go back to trial.
It’s important that you understand, though, that a mistrial is not the same as being found “not guilty.” And you could potentially be tried again; it’s not considered double jeopardy.
What happens if I’m found guilty?
If you’re found guilty of a crime in Texas, then the court will normally set a date for sentencing. The court will follow the state or federal sentencing guidelines, while also considering any mitigating or aggravating factors. The sentencing judge will normally also listen to your statements about sentencing and the views of the victims.
The sentence will state whether you are eligible for probation and the terms of your probation, or whether you should be incarcerated. The sentence will set forth the length of your sentence and any other conditions that may apply. The sentence can also include a fine and other conditions such as attendance at substance abuse programs. Our criminal defense lawyers work aggressively to minimize your sentence.
Loss of rights for felony convictions
If you are convicted of a felony, you may lose certain rights when you are in prison (in addition to losing your freedom) and when you are released from prison. You generally will:
- Lose the right to own a firearm
- Lose the right to vote while you are imprisoned
- Be ineligible for public office
- Lose the right to serve on a jury unless certain conditions are met
You may be eligible for Social Security Disability Income or Social Security Income on your release. In some cases, you won’t be eligible.
Your rights to custody may be affected depending on the best interests of your child.
Death penalty cases
Texas does authorize the death penalty for capital offenses depending on a variety of factors. The death penalty may apply if more than one person is killed, the murder is committed while other dangerous crimes are committed, a death occurs while trying or succeeding in escaping a penal institution, due to payments for murder, knowingly killing an on-duty police officer or firefighter, killing a child under 10, and killing a penal institution employee while in prison.
Our lawyers will work to show the death penalty should not apply in your case.
Do I have a right to file an appeal?
Generally, you can appeal convictions – but there are rules. You can’t just appeal a decision you don’t like simply so you can try again; that’s not how it works. There are specific timelines for filing and specific steps you must take. The grounds for an appeal can include mistakes of law by the judge or prosecution, jury misconduct, or issues with the evidence. You may also be able to seek a release based on evidence of innocence, provided certain conditions are met.
What is the difference between probation and parole?
If you are convicted of a crime in Central Texas, you may be given probation instead of jail or prison time. You will have to comply with a set of conditions the judge imposes, such as meeting regularly with a probation officer, staying out of any further trouble, performing community services, and other conditions. If you fail to comply with these conditions, you can be ordered to spend the rest of your sentence in jail or be placed on probation with stricter conditions.
You may be eligible for parole after you have served some of your sentence. This means you will be released from prison, be required to meet with a parole officer, and comply with any conditions imposed by the judges starting with not getting into any further trouble. If you violate your parole, you could be ordered to return to prison.
If you commit any offenses while on probation or parole, in addition to returning to prison, you will be charged with those new crimes. Our lawyers represent clients appearing before judges for violating probation or parole.
Are there alternatives to prison?
In addition to probation and/or community service requirements, you may be eligible for alternative programs and alternative courts:
- Deferred adjudication. Here, you agree to plead “guilty” or “no contest” to your charges, but the charges are essentially placed on hold while you meet certain conditions, such as paying restitution, attending school or work, reporting to a probation officer, and other requirements. If you comply with these conditions, you can petition to have your record sealed later. You’ll still have a record, but sealing it means it’s easier for you to do things like apply for an apartment or get a job.
- Pre-trial diversion. This is a lot like deferred adjudication, except if you follow the rules and keep your nose clean, you could potentially have your charges dropped entirely. Pre-trial diversion programs are great options for first-time offenders, but not everyone will be eligible.
- DWI/Drug courts. These courts focus on rehabilitation instead of incarceration.
- Veterans’ treatment courts. Veterans who commit non-violent crimes may be eligible for programs that focus on their trauma instead of incarceration.
Note: Bell County has the following specialty courts: A Veterans Treatment Court, a DWI/Drug Court, and also a Mental Health Docket.
It’s different in the juvenile system
Things are different for juvenile offenders, and often in unexpected ways. For example, juvenile offenders aren’t eligible for bail, and they are often held in detention for far longer than they legally should be. A scathing expose on Tarrant County in 2022 revealed that a lot of children are in prisons for low-level, non-violent offenses. One Texas Tribune reporter told NPR that some of these youth prisons keep their kids locked up for 23 hours a day. If your child has been convicted of a crime, talk to your attorney about any alternatives to the prison system that may be possible.
Do you have a criminal defense lawyer near me?
Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm has an office in Killeen at 701 W Central Texas Expressway. If you cannot come to us, we can arrange in-custody visits as well as phone or video consultations.
Speak with a strong Killeen criminal defense lawyer now
Here at the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, we fight to preserve your freedom and your reputation. We work to minimize the consequences of a conviction. Our defense lawyers have helped numerous clients stay out of jail and restart their lives. Contact us today or use our contact form to schedule a consultation. Our criminal defense lawyers in Killeen serve clients throughout all of Central Texas, including Temple, Belton, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, and Waco, as well as McLennan, Coryell, and Bell Counties.