Frequently Asked Questions
Frank Crowley Courts Building - 133 N. Riverfront Boulevard, LB 19, Dallas, TX 75207
Phone: (214) 653-3600 • Fax: (214) 653-5774
1. How are crimes classified in Texas?
Texas law classifies offenses in two broad categories: felony and misdemeanor. Felony offenses are the more serious and involve possible commitment to the Texas prison system. Felonies are prosecuted in the district courts and include most offenses against the person and serious property offenses such as house and business burglaries. Misdemeanors are prosecuted in the county courts and involve offenses such as DWI and simple assaults and thefts. The District Attorney is responsible for prosecuting all such cases.
2. What is the difference between a police offense report number and the District Attorney case number?
When the police are called and conduct an investigation of a crime, they write a report and assign the case an "offense number". When the police file their case with the District Attorney’s Office a new "case number" is assigned. The case number usually remains the same until the case is resolved.
3. What happens to the accused person?
Soon after arrest, the accused person (defendant) is taken before a judge who tells the defendant the charges against him/her. The judge is required to set a bond amount and to advise the defendant of his/her rights. Unless the defendant can post the bond amount set by the judge, he/she remains in custody and is normally transferred to the county jail to await further action in the case.
If a defendant can make the bond, the law requires that the defendant be released from jail. If the defendant meets all bond conditions, he/she will remain free on bond (out of jail) until the case is resolved.
4. What is the purpose of bond?
Nearly all cases allow a bond. The bond amount is NOT set by the District Attorney but by a judge or magistrate. Its sole purpose is to guarantee the defendant’s appearance in court for later proceedings. In setting the amount, the judge or magistrate is to: 1) set the amount sufficiently high to give reasonable assurance of the defendant’s presence in court, 2) not use it as an instrument of oppression, 3) consider the nature of the offense charged, 4) consider the accused’s ability to make the bond, and 5) consider the safety of the alleged victim and the community.
5. Can conditions be set as part of the bond?
Yes, in many cases conditions may be set. Oftentimes the magistrate who sets the bond amount does not know the special concerns of a particular crime victim. If you have a question or concern about bond conditions, you may call the prosecutor assigned to the case or the Victim Witness Division. The prosecutor may be able to have special bond conditions set, if the judge or magistrate agrees the conditions are needed.
6. What if someone threatens me to drop charges?
Such a person is obstructing justice and may be guilty of a felony offense called “Retaliation.” Call the law enforcement agency that investigated the case originally so the threat can be documented and action taken to prevent recurrence. Also, inform the prosecutor assigned to your case or the Victim Witness Division of the incident.
7. Does the judge appoint an attorney and investigator for the defendant?
If the defendant is indigent/poor, the judge may appoint an attorney and investigator to aid the defendant. However, the attorney and the investigator are not working for the judge. They are working for the defendant. The defendant’s investigator reports to the defense attorney. You should require anyone who claims to be investigating your case to show identification. You may speak to the defendant’s attorney or investigator but you do not have to. The prosecutor assigned on the case can advise you regarding your rights and duties.
8. Will I have the same prosecutor throughout the process?
Not always. Since cases sometimes take months or years before they are finally resolved, you may have more than one prosecutor who handles your case.
9. Do I need to attend all of the court settings?
No, not unless you are notified by the District Attorney’s Office that you need to be there. Generally, there are several court settings before the case is resolved. You are welcome to attend any setting, but your presence is not always required.
10. How will I be notified?
When the judge calls your case for trial, you can expect the District Attorney’s Office to notify you. Although many cases are set for trial each week, not every case is reached. The prosecutor will try to give you as much notice as possible, but sometimes the prosecutor has short notice. Therefore it is very important that you notify your assigned prosecutor or the Victim Witness Division if you move or change phone numbers. We must be able to contact you in order to effectively prosecute the case.
11. Why do some cases get dismissed?
If the prosecutor determines that there is not sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, or that there exists some legal problem in the case, the prosecutor may file a motion asking that the case be dismissed. This action is taken only after complete investigation and normally after police have exhausted all avenues for obtaining more evidence. The judge may grant the motion to dismiss if satisfied that the case cannot be proven at trial.
12. When will my case go to trial?
Most courts have a crowded docket - some more crowded than others. The courts generally try the oldest cases first and give a preference to defendants who are in jail awaiting trial. The judge sets his/her own docket. Most cases are tried anywhere from nine months to three years from the defendant’s arrest.
13. Will there be a negotiated plea in my case?
A negotiated plea or plea agreement is an agreement between the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the defendant as to what punishment the defendant will receive for the crime he/she committed. In making a plea offer the prosecutor will try to recommend a sentence that is close to what a jury might give in a similar case. In exchange for a certain punishment, the defendant gives up all constitutional rights, including the right to a jury trial and appeal.