So what happens if you are arrested? The first thing that happens generally, is that you are taken to jail. If you are arrested in Waco, or in McLennan County, you would be taken to the McLennan County jail.
If you are arrested and taken to jail the first step is to process you. That involves getting information such as your identity, date of birth, and other personal information. Fingerprints will also be taken. If there is any issue about your identity, those fingerprints may be checked. Once you are processed, you are either taken to a holding facility or the main jail. Most larger jails have holding areas where defendants are initially placed. If you "bond out", you are released from there, and if not they would make the decision of where to place you in the general population. Obviously, you want to be released as soon as possible. To do that, you will have to post bail. The process for setting bail differs. Normally, you will appear before a magistrate. The magistrate will tell you what your rights are, and explain what you are charged with. Most importantly, he will set a bail amount. Most magistrates have set amounts for the more common offenses. Occasionally they will either set a bond lower or higher depending on the particular circumstances of the case. At this point, there is limited information about the case. Normally, all that is available is the summary of the reason for the arrest. The magistrates only job is to advise individuals of their rights and set bail. They have no authority to examine the case and make decisions about its merits.
Bail can take one of 3 forms. In rare occasions, a personal bond may be set. That means you are released simply on your signature and promise to appear. More common is a surety bond. That bond can be made in 1 of 2 ways. The most common is to contact a bondsman. Most jails have a list of the bondsmen licensed in that area. Bondsmen charge a percentage of the bond amount, and in return obtain your release. Their job is to ensure you appear for Court. If you do not, they can be responsible for the bond amount and have to pay that. In lieu of contacting a bondsman, you can post a cash bond. If you have money, that is generally preferable. The reason is that if you appear before Court, you will get that amount back less any administrative fees.
What Happens Next – Processing the Case
Once you are arrested, the case is transferred to a prosecutor’s office. That can either be a city attorney, county attorney, or district attorney, depending on the seriousness of the charge. For anything other than class C misdemeanors, the arresting officer will prepare a report. If additional investigation is necessary, the case will be assigned to another officer to complete. Additional investigation may include contacting witnesses and verifying information. Once the investigation is complete, the case is transferred to a prosecuting attorney’s office. Depending on the nature of the case, there might not be any investigation at all, or there may be a lengthy investigation. Offenses committed in the presence of an officer generally require no additional investigation. Once the case is transferred to a prosecuting attorney, it is assigned to a specific attorney to handle. In some of the larger jurisdictions, there may be screening attorneys who review the cases when they are first filed and make decisions about them. In other jurisdictions, the case may simply be assigned to an attorney depending on the nature of the case. Once the case is assigned, the attorney will review the reports and make a decision on what to do. Sometimes they may want an additional investigation. In that situation, they may send the case back to the arresting agency or have an investigator in their office do the work. In other cases, they may simply decide what charge to file, and file the paperwork. An attorney is particularly useful at this stage of the process. The earlier an attorney can be involved, the more impact they can have on the proceedings. In cases where there is a question about what happened, or what charges to file, input from an attorney may influence the decision. It is much easier to negotiate a case at this stage before charges are filed. Once a formal charge is filed, it is more difficult to obtain either a dismissal or a lesser charge.
Depending on the nature of the case, formal charges are filed in 1 or 2 ways. In misdemeanor cases, an information is filed. That involves a document setting out the charge. Along with that is a complaint, accompanied by an affidavit. That complaint also sets out the charge, as well as the evidence supporting it. The information and the complaint are filed with the clerk’s office, and the case is given a case number. At that time the case is also assigned to a Court. Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be several Courts hearing the same type of cases, and at this point, the case would go to one of those Courts.
For felony offenses, an indictment must be obtained. That involves presenting a case to the grand jury. A grand jury can either decide to issue the indictment or refuse to do so. The right to have the case presented to the grand jury can be waived. Sometimes there are benefits to doing that. In those cases where you know a plea is going to be entered, a defendant may want to avoid the grand jury process. Generally, grand jury indictments are published in the papers or other media. Some people may wish to avoid that. While an information is public record and can be discovered and reported, it is not filed until you appear in Court. As such, it is less likely it would appear in the paper. Of course in high profile cases, and those who have public interest, there is no way to avoid publicity. Reporters will follow the case, then report on it whenever there is a Court proceeding.
The grand jury process is a limited form of review. Grand jurors are selected and serve terms usually of 2 months. During their term, they may meet several times for cases presented to them. Generally, the prosecutor will present only a summary of the case and the prominent facts. The decision the grand jury must make is not whether there is sufficient evidence to convict, but only whether there is probable cause to believe the offense has been committed. The decision as to whether a person is guilty or not is for a full jury. Facts presented to the grand jury are generally limited, and the defendant has no right to appear. Occasionally, a request can be made to appear before the grand jury, and the grand jury may decide to allow the evidence. However, your lawyer is not entitled to appear before the grand jury, and therefore most lawyers will not allow their clients to do that. A grand jury can also be used for investigative purposes. Prosecutors may call witnesses before the grand jury to take testimony, especially where a case is being investigated. Grand juries also have the right to conduct their own investigation. While it rarely happens, a grand jury does have the authority to initiate an investigation on its own.
Once an indictment is issued, your case will be assigned to a District Court. In McLennan County, there are two courts that handle felony cases – the 19th District Court and 54th District Court. The case is assigned a case number and you will be notified when to appear in court. The process, once you are in court, will be addressed in a separate article.