A MESSAGE FROM YOUR DISTRICT ATTORNEYS
When you are a victim or a witness to a crime, especially a violent crime, your initial reaction is likely to be a violent one. This reaction is normal.
When the person responsible for committing the crime can be identified, the matter is brought into the criminal justice system. This system, composed of law enforcement, our office, the courts, and the correctional and probation systems, is often confusing to those not accustomed to dealing with it on a daily basis.
In all crimes against persons and major property crime cases, our office policy requires an assigned prosecutor to work on a case from the time it comes into our office through the disposition of the case. Although our prosecutors handle more than 100 active cases at all times, they are experienced trial lawyers here to help you understand this complex system. Additionally, our Victim/Witness division is able to provide you with detailed information to help you cope with your new role and the criminal justice system. If you need to discuss your case with us, please write (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) and state the problem and case number, if available, mark the envelope as "personal" and advise us how to get in touch with you. We will contact you as quickly possible.
You can help our office by remembering our heavy caseload and by recognizing that the backlog in the courts and that other things cause delays. Though it is often difficult and frustrating, please try to wait for the prosecutor to contact you unless you have new information or specific concerns. Otherwise, you may take valuable time from yours or other cases by calling.
The criminal justice system of Texas, like those of other states, is structured to provide constitutional safeguards for those accused of a crime, while it has little built-in protection for the rights of victims of criminal behavior.
Our first priority is the prosecution and conviction of those who caused you physical and emotional anguish. We want them caught and punished under the law as much as you do! This publication has been prepared by the District Attorneys' Offices to answer the most frequent questions posed by victims and witnesses. If you have any additional questions, please contact our Office.
51st District Attorney
George E. McCrea
119th District Attorney
WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN A CRIME HAPPENS?
First, call the police or sheriff's office and make a full report. In most cases a law enforcement officer will meet with you in person to obtain important details.
HOW DOES MY CASE GET TO THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE FOR PROSECUTION?
All local law enforcement agencies present cases to the District Attorneys' Office when their investigation is complete, for "screening" before a complaint is filed. Normally, you do not need to be present for this action.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SAY A CASE IS "SCREENED"?
Before a complaint charging a felony is filed, it is reviewed by an assistant district attorney who determines whether there is sufficient evidence to prove that an offense was committed, and whether there is sufficient evidence to show probable cause (a legal term) to believe that the person accused committed the crime. Certain other legal question may also be explored at this time, such as whether an arrest without a warrant was legally justified, whether certain evidence to the case was legally obtained, and whether additional investigation is required. Although some cases are refused for prosecution at this stage, most are filed as received from a peace officer. Screening felony cases insures that fewer criminals escape justice on legal technicalities later in the process.
WHAT IS A COMPLAINT?
A complaint is a legal document charging a specific person with the violation of a criminal law. It must be sworn to by someone who knows the facts of the crime charged, either by direct knowledge or through investigation. A complaint is generally necessary before a peace officer can obtain a warrant of arrest authorizing him or her to apprehend a person accused of a crime.
WHAT IS A WARRANT OF ARREST?
A warrant of arrest is an order signed by a judge, authorizing a peace officer to arrest a person charged with having committed a crime.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE ACCUSED?
The person accused of the crime is called the defendant. Soon after arrest by a peace officer, the defendant is taken before a judge who informs the defendant of the reason he has been arrested, and of the facts contained in the complaint. The judge is required to set an amount of bail and to advise the defendant of his rights. Unless the defendant can post bail in the amount set by the judge, he remains in custody at the county jail to await further action in the case.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF BAIL?
Bail is allowed in virtually all cases, including felonies. The amount of bail is not set by the District Attorneys but by the judge. Its sole legal purpose is to guarantee the defendant’s appearance in court for later proceedings. In setting the amount, the judge is required to consider the seriousness of the offense charged against the defendant, the defendant’s ability to raise money to make bail, and the defendant's ties to the community in determining when a defendant is likely to flee prior to trial. Bail may not be set so high as to punish a defendant by keeping him in jail pending his trial.
WHAT DOES A GRAND JURY DO?
Texas law requires action by the grand jury before a felony case can be filed in district court. If the grand jury believes that there is sufficient evidence to prove that a person has committed a felony, it votes to issue what is called a “true bill,” or indictment. At least nine grand jurors must vote in favor of an indictment, or the case is “no-billed,” which terminates the case. The district attorneys assist the grand jury in hearing evidence and preparing indictments, but the actual deliberations on cases are secret and only the grand jurors are present when voting is in progress.
HOW ARE WITNESSES CALLED FOR TRIAL?
Witnesses are notified by subpoena and/or letter when and where to appear, and what, if anything, to bring with them to court. Witnesses for the prosecution usually receive their subpoenas more than a week prior to the trial setting.
WHAT IF SOMEONE WHO IS NOT AN ATTORNEY GIVES ME “LEGAL ADVICE”?
You might receive “legal advice” from someone who is not an attorney. This may cause you unnecessary stress. Check with your prosecutor or another qualified attorney on legal issues. No two cases are alike. Many become confused and frustrated by incorrect information. Don’t let this happen to you.
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 which investigated the case originally or contact the assistant district attorney who is handling the case in our office. Do so as soon as possible so that the threats can be documented and action taken to prevent reoccurrence.
HOW IS A CASE PROCESSED IN THE DISTRICT ATTORNEYS’ OFFICE?
After a case is screened and a complaint prepared by the District Attorneys’ Office, the office begins preparation of a file. This file will contain information provided by the law enforcement agency investigating your case, as well as other information developed by the State. After the file is assembled, it will be assigned to a prosecutor. After the prosecutor reviews the case, he or she sends it to the grand jury for consideration. One to four weeks may pass before it is submitted
to the grand jury.
WHAT IF A DEFENSE ATTORNEY CONTACTS ME ABOUT THE CASE?
The attorney representing the defendant is performing a legal responsibility when he investigates the case. You may discuss the case with him or her. However, you are not required to discuss the case with a representative of the defense and you may decline to do so. If you decide to discuss the case with him or her, it is perfectly acceptable for you to request that an attorney from the District Attorneys’ Office be present.
DOES THE JUDGE APPOINT INVESTIGATORS FOR THE DEFENSE IN CRIMINAL CASES?
Yes and no. In some cases, private investigators assist defense attorneys in case preparation. If the defendant is indigent, the judge may appoint an attorney and an investigator to aid the defendant. However, the investigator will not be working for the judge; he/she reports his investigation to the defense attorney. You should always require anyone who claims to be investigating “for the judge” or “for the court” to show identification and be sure to examine it closely. Call the District Attorneys’ Office before you talk about the case if you have any doubts.
WHAT IS A GRAND JURY?
A grand jury is a body of twelve citizens who meets bimonthly for six month terms and considers whether to return indictments in felony cases. Grand jurors are nominated by a Grand Jury Commission appointed by a district judge. The District Attorneys have no control over the selection process. Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public, and witnesses take an oath of secrecy before testifying.
WHAT SHOULD I DO AFTER I RECEIVE THE SUBPOENA?
No action is required on your part after you receive the subpoena, other than appearing in court on the date and at the time stated on the subpoena. Please note that the subpoenas of the District Attorneys Office instruct the witness to check with that office before reporting to the courthouse. This may prevent an unnecessary trip to the court-house in case of a last-minute change in the trial schedule.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR TO COURT?
Dress neatly and conservatively when making an appearance in court. Your manner of dress can have an impact upon jurors who listen to your testimony and who may be called upon to determine disputed facts. You may wish to bring a sweater since courtrooms are often cold.
WHAT IS AN EXAMINING TRIAL?
An examining trial is a hearing before a judge to determine whether probable cause exists to send a felony case on to the grand jury. In Texas, an examining trial is not held unless demanded by a defendant. Once the grand jury has returned an indictment, the defendant loses the right to an examining trial. If such a hearing is set in your case and if your testimony is necessary, you will be notified of the date and time and asked to appear.
WHAT IS A PRETRIAL HEARING?
After the felony case has been considered by a grand jury and an indictment returned, the case will be scheduled for a pretrial setting. This setting will normally be three weeks or more after indictment. At the pretrial setting the defendant and his attorney usually advise, the judge whether the defendant wants a trial or will plead guilty, and if a trial is desired, whether a jury is required. Certain motions concerning legal issues may be heard at the pretrial setting. Occasionally, a witness may be needed on a pretrial motion, and if your presence is required, you will be notified well in advance of the setting.
WHY DO SOME CASES GET DISMISSED?
If the assistant district attorney handling a felony case determines that there is not sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, he or she may file a motion with the district judge asking that the case be dismissed. This action is taken only after the case has been completely investigated, and normally, after the police have exhausted all avenues for obtaining additional evidence. The judge may grant the motion to dismiss if he or she is satisfied that the charges cannot be proven in trial.
WHAT HAPPENS AT TRIAL?
In a trial, the District Attorneys present the case for the State, attempting to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime as charged. The defendant may present his or her side of the case, or may present no case at all. The jury (if one has been impaneled) or the judge must decide whether the state’s case has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the defendant is found guilty, our law provides for a second stage or trial at which the defendant’s punishment, within the range authorized by law, is decided by either the jury or a judge. The defendant is permitted to determine whether he wants his punishment set by the judge or jury.
WHAT DO I DO AT THE TRIAL?
As a witness for the State, you have an important part in the trial. The truth of your testimony, the manner in which you give it, and the appearance you make while on the witness stand and in the courtroom are all factors which may be weighed by the jury or judge in deciding the case. You will be questioned by the District Attorneys, and then “cross-examined” by the attorney for the defendant. During cross-examination, witnesses sometimes feel that their personal motives for testifying are under attack, but the process is not meant to demean you, nor is it meant to be a personal attack upon you. The defense attorney is charged by law with representing his client well, and this often involves bringing close scrutiny to bear upon the testimony of others. If you are concerned about the trial procedures, you may contact the assistant district attorney handling the case and he or she will answer your questions. A pretrial conference with witnesses is usually scheduled prior to the trial date.
WHEN CAN I HAVE MY PROPERTY RETURNED?
Property which has been stolen during the commission of an offense can often be restored to the owner prior to the trial. However, there are times when this cannot be accomplished, particularly if the property is currency or where it in some manner directly identifies the perpetrator of the offense (i.e. it has fingerprints on it, etc.). If property is to be restored to you before disposition of the case, you must contact the police agency that investigated the case. Property held until trial, and/or received into court as evidence in the trial, can usually be restored after trial. Contact the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case in this situation.
CAN I BE COMPENSATED FOR MY EFFORTS AS A WITNESS?
As a general rule, Texas law does not authorize any compensation for witnesses testifying in criminal matters. Exceptions are made in cases where the witness is from outside the state, or from outside the county in which the trial is held, in which case travel expenses are allowed.
WHAT IS A PLEA BARGAIN? WILL YOU PLEA BARGAIN MY CASE?
The term “plea bargain” is unfortunate in that it is misleading to the public and implies that the defendant and his attorney have managed to have his charges reduced or receive a light sentence.
A plea bargain is an agreement between the attorney representing the State and the defendant and his attorney, that the State will recommend a specific punishment in the case, if the defendant will enter a plea of guilty. The agreement as to punishment is not binding upon the judge, who may impose any punishment within the range authorized by law. There are advantages to both the State and the defendant in arriving at such an agreement in many cases, but it is the goal of the District Attorneys’ Office to negotiate such a plea for a punishment which takes into consideration the facts of the particular case, the criminal history or lack thereof of the defendant and the advantage of finality to both sides. In the event your case is set for a plea of guilty, you will be notified by the Victim Witness Coordinator of the date and time of the plea. The Victim Witness Coordinator will be available to answer any questions you may have. You also now have the right at the close of the trial, after the finding of guilt and sentencing, to tell the court and the defendant how the crime
has affected your life.
THE CRIME VICTIMS COMPENSATION ACT
The Crime Victims Compensation Act has been established to assist innocent victims, dependents of deceased victims of violent crimes, and persons who go to the aid of peace officers or attempt to prevent a crime of violence.
WHO CAN FILE A CLAIM?
If you sustain personal injury on or after January 1, 1980,
- As a victim of a violent crime, or
- You were injured going to the aid of another person or peace officer or while attempting to prevent a crime of violence, or
- You are the surviving spouse, child or other dependent of a deceased victim, or
- In the event of death, you legally assume the obligations or voluntarily pay the medical or burial expenses incurred as a direct result of the crime.
BASIC REQUIREMENTS FOR ELIGIBILITY:
- A violent crime was committed within the State of Texas.
- The victim reported the crime to the appropriate state or local public safety or law enforcement agency within a reasonable period of time, but not so late as to interfere with or hamper the investigation or prosecution.
- The claimant filed application with the Crime Victims Compensation Division of the Industrial Accident Board within three years after the date of crime. (Exception: —Good Cause, —Child Victim Under 21, —Victim Physically Incapacitated.)
- The behavior of the victim at the time of the incident was such that he or she does not bear a share of the responsibility of the incident.
WHAT COMPENSATION MAY BE PAID?
If the application for compensation is approved, the Board may take any or all of the following actions:
- Authorize cash payments not to exceed $500.00 per week ($150.00 if the crime occurred before September 1989) for actual loss of past earnings and not to exceed $400.00 per week ($150.00 if the crime occurred before September 1989) for loss of anticipated future earnings.
- Authorize cash payments not to exceed $500.00 per week for loss of support to dependents of a homicide victim.
- Authorize cash payments not to exceed $100.00 per week per minor child, to enable a victim or spouse to engage or continue in lawful employment.
- Pay medical and hospital costs and funeral expenses not recouped from other sources.
- Provide counseling services for victims. Provide counseling services for victim’s family members when the victim is a child.
- Make an emergency award not to exceed $1,500.00. Total recovery may not exceed $50,000.00.
APPLICATION FOR BENEFITS WILL BE DENIED IF:
- The crime is not reported or application is not made in the manner specified by law.
- The victim or claimant knowingly and willingly participated in the crime.
- The assailant or accomplice will benefit.
LOSSES NOT COVERED BY THIS PROGRAM:
- Pain and suffering
- Stolen or damaged property.
TEXAS CRIME VICTIM RIGHTS
A victim of a violent crime is:
- someone who has suffered bodily injury or death or who is the victim of sexual assault, kidnapping, or aggravated robbery
- the close relative (spouse, parent, or adult brother, sister or child) of a deceased victim, or
- the guardian of a victim.
As a victim of violent crime, close relative of a deceased victim, or guardian of a victim, you have the following rights:
- The right to receive from law enforcement agencies adequate protection from harm and threats of harm arising from cooperation with prosecution efforts;
- The right to have the magistrate take the safety of the victim or his family into consideration as an element in fixing the amount of bail for the accused;
- The right, if requested, to be informed of relevant court proceedings and to be informed if those court proceedings have been canceled or rescheduled prior to the event;
- The right to be informed, when requested, by a peace officer concerning the defendant’s right to bail and the procedures in criminal investigations and by the district attorney’s office concerning the general procedures in the criminal justice system, including general procedures in guilty plea negotiations and arrangements, restitution, and the appeals and parole process;
- The right to provide pertinent information to a probation department conducting a pre-sentencing investigation concerning the impact of the offense on the victim and his family by testimony, written statement, or any other manner prior to any sentencing of the offender. In addition, state law provides that a victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim, may complete a Victim Impact Statement and have that statement considered by the court in a criminal case prior to the imposition of a sentence and by the Board of Pardons and Paroles in the parole process. Victims may also appear in court and present a statement to the court after the sentence has been pronounced.
- The right to receive information regarding compensation to victims of crime as provided by the Crime Victims Compensation Act (Chapter 56 of the Code of Criminal Procedure), including information related to the costs that may be compensated under that Act and the amount of compensation, eligibility for compensation, and procedures for application for compensation under that Act, the payment for a medical examination under article 56.06 of this code for a victim of a sexual assault, and when requested, to referral to available social service agencies that may offer additional assistance;
- The right to be informed, upon request, of parole procedures, to participate in the parole process, to be notified, if requested, of parole proceedings concerning the defendant in the victim’s case, to provide to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for inclusion in the defendant’s file information to be considered by the board prior to the parole of any defendant convicted of any crime subject to this Act, and to be notified, if requested, of the defendant’s release;
- The right to be provided with a waiting area, separate or secure from other witnesses, including the offender and relatives of the offender, before testifying in any proceeding concerning the offender; if a separate waiting area is not available, other safeguards should be taken to minimize the victim’s contact with the offender and the offender’s relatives and witnesses, before and during the court proceedings;
- The right to prompt return of any property of the victim that is held by a law enforcement agency or the attorney for the state as evidence when the property is no longer required for that purpose;
- The right to have the attorney for the state notify the employer of the victim, if requested, of the necessity of the victim’s cooperation and testimony in a proceeding that may necessitate the absence of the victim from work for good cause.
- The right to counseling, on request, regarding AIDS and HIV infection and testing for AIDS and HIV related infections, if the offense is a sexual offense or sexual assault.
- The right to be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense, subject to the approval of the judge in the case.
- The right to privacy—as far as is reasonably practical, the address of the victim may not be part of the court file except as necessary to identify the place of the crime. The phone number of the victim may not be part of the court file.
If you or your family have been contacted or threatened by the defendant or the defendant’s family since the crime occurred, please contact your local law enforcement agency and prosecutor immediately.
HOW ARE CRIMES CLASSIFIED IN TEXAS?
Texas law classifies criminal offenses into two broad categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Felony offenses are the more serious, and involve possible commitment to the Department of Corrections. Felony cases are prosecuted in the district courts of this State, and the District Attorneys are responsible for all such cases.
IMPORTANT TELEPHONE NUMBERS FOR VICTIMS AND WITNESSES:
|San Angelo Police Department||325-657-4498|
|Assault Victim Services||325-658-8888|
|TDCJ Crime Victims Clearinghouse||800-848-4284|