There are four phases in the trial process where a person charged with a Fort Worth felony can have their case brought to a conclusion.  They are: (1) examining hearing, (2) grand jury, (3) plea bargain, and (4) trial. While it is possible for a case to be dismissed at an examining trial and a grand jury hearing, that typically does not happen.

  1. Examining Hearing – A Long Shot

The purpose of an examining hearing is to determine if there is probable cause to believe the person charged with the crime is guilty.  An examining trial is held before a magistrate. The magistrate has four options, dismiss the charges, find probable cause that the accused committed a crime, reduce bail, or increase bail.

Any person charged with a felony has the right to an examining trial before a grand jury has met and returned a bill of indictment. However, the state has the upper hand at an examining trial. The burden of proof is much lower than at the final trial. However, some tactical advantages may exist by moving for an examining trial. A motion for an examining hearing may give the defense a bargaining chip in negotiating for a lower bond.

  1. The Grand Jury — Another Long Shot

The next step in the process is a grand jury hearing. Again, the grand jury can dismiss the charges, but the rules are weighted heavily in favor of the state. The purpose of the grand jury is to prevent the state from abusing its authority by holding people on frivolous charges.

Typically, the grand jury receives evidence provided by the district attorney. The defense attorney is not part of the process.  Probable cause is the weight of evidence that the state must prove exists to the grand jury before a true indictment is issued. Probable cause is a relatively low burden of proof and rarely does the state fail to get an indictment. A grand jury hearing is akin to a football team’s offense running plays in practice with no opposition from the defense.   No one is there to stop the offense, but on occasion, the quarterback trips and falls.  It is possible that the grand jury will not return an indictment, but do not count on it.

  1. Plea Bargains

A trial follows an indictment by the grand jury. When viewing the uncertainty, time, and expense involved in a trial, the state is often willing to negotiate and enter into a plea agreement.  Frequently , a felony charge is reduced to a misdemeanor through plea negotiations. Also, issues such as probation and the amount of active time can be addressed in a plea bargain.

The decision to accept a plea agreement is one that a defendant needs to make in consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney. The attorney can advise the defendant on what impact the evidence will have on a jury, on what the sentence will be if you go to trial and lose.  An experienced defense attorney can also advise a client on the chances are of getting an acquittal at trial.

The first step in negotiating a good plea agreement is listening. Criminal defense attorneys have strong speaking skills, but excellent attorneys are equally gifted at listening. The first person a good attorney listens to is his client. If you are charged with a crime, you need to have an attorney who will honestly advise you on the strength of the evidence against you and the sentence that you face.  However, a good attorney will also listen to your concerns and what you want to accomplish with a plea agreement. With this knowledge and the facts of the case, your lawyer will meet with the district attorney to negotiate a plea agreement.

  1. Trial

If you do not enter into a plea agreement, the next step is a trial. The rules in the examining trial and the grand jury are heavily tilted in favor of the state. In the next phase of the process, the odds start to improve for a person charged with a crime.  At trial, the state has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a much higher burden of proof than the state had to meet at an examining trial or with the grand jury.

In addition, the defense can question the state’s witnesses and offer evidence and witnesses of its own. Moreover, rules of evidence apply.  For example, hearsay generally cannot be admitted. Hearsay is when someone repeats what another person said. For example, at trial if a police officer says, “Bill told me Joe was at—.” At that, the defense attorney will spring to his feet and say, “objection, hearsay”. Unless the state can provide a rule for a hearsay exception, the judge will say, “Sustained.” Now the police officer cannot put into evidence what Bill told him, but only what the police officer saw.

Attorney Bryan Hoeller

Regardless of what stage your case reaches, Bryan Hoeller knows the process, will fully explain all your options, and will fight for you. If a plea agreement is in your best interest, he will work hard to get you the best plea agreement possible.  If your Fort Worth felony case goes to trial, Mr. Hoeller will be ready to battle on your behalf.