Classifications of Crimes
In Texas, crimes are classified into three categories. From least to most severe you can be convicted of a minor offense, misdemeanor, or a felony. Minor offenses are acts that are not explicitly expressed in criminal law, but are harmful to society. There are levels within each of these, although the more common convictions may be among misdemeanors:
Class A: Maximum one year in prison and up to a $4,000 fine.
Theft of property from $750 to $2,500 and burglary of a vehicle.
Class B: Maximum 180 days in prison and up to a $2,000 fine.
Theft of property of at least $100 and up to $750, drunk driving, up to 2 ounces of marajuana possession
Class C: Up to a $500 fine.
Examples include disorderly conduct, jumping bail, excessive traffic tickets.
Felonies are for sentences longer than a year, and generally for violent offenses.
There are three phases to civil litigation: pre-trial, discovery, and then motions/requests. Each of these phases include a lot of work, making it very important that you have a lawyer you can trust and who works hard to build the strongest case in your favor. Some of this process you can do yourself, although it is always more advisable to let a lawyer handle your case.
During this phase you want to research the possible outcomes and whether the issue can be settled out of court (Alternative Dispute Resolution or ADR). If this is possible, it may save you a lot of time and money. You will then need to file the claim with a court, in triplicate and with a fee. The person or entity you are filing against will then be given legal notice by the court when you or your lawyer asks for a citation. There can be a few more steps, especially if the respondent has their own claim to file against you or if they are not in the court’s jurisdiction. Again, this is why a lawyer can be helpful in navigating the back and forth between the court and who you are filing against.
During the discovery phase, there may be depositions (when either party answers questions under oath) or answers written questions. Sometimes a physical or medical examination is necessary. If you are given discovery requests, be sure to submit a response to the court by the time requested. Ignoring such requests can lead to contempt of court charges and may complicate your situation further.
Motions and Requests
To request things for the court to do before a trial, motions and requests need to be filed. You may need to request a jury, a continuance if you need to change the trial date, or you may need to amend the petition due to something learned in the discovery phase.
Once all of the background work has been completed, the trial itself also involves a lot of moving parts. There are very specific court procedures that you can research on your own, but are best left to a professional lawyer. Evidence has to be submitted to the court, but it has to be determined if it is admissible and relevant. You also need to understand how the law is applied in your situation. Mistakes on either side can lead to a mistrial, so it is advisable that either you know your matter in the law inside and out or you have a professional handle your case for you.
There may be deadlines established by the judge when he or she reaches a decision. There may be a court order, which must be followed precisely. Finally, there could be an appeal if either side is unhappy with the outcome and there is another angle that can be pursued in another court.
Getting to Conviction
While knowing the process can be useful as a defendant, you should be careful about taking on a case by yourself without a lawyer. There are a lot of twists and turns with any litigation, especially if there are outstanding questions about guilt or if the penalty may be severe. Real life is not like it is on television, and it is best to consult a lawyer whenever you are involved in a criminal case.