Understanding Criminal Charges

What to Expect After Criminal Charges

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, what will happen? There are some general stages that cases can go through:

Stage: What generally happens — What a lawyer should generally do.


Government agents investigate to develop evidence against a person — The lawyer should act as a liaison between the accused and the government; try to prevent the accused from incriminating himself; collect exculpatory evidence.

Work to keep investigators from making a case.

Formal charge

Prosecutor files an indictment, a complaint, or an information — The lawyer should explain to the prosecutor or the grand jury why formal charges are not appropriate.

Work to prevent indictment.


Judge decides whether to set bail, and in what amount — The lawyer should set reasonable bail set; assist the accused in making bail and getting released.

Work to get the client out.

Pretrial proceedings

Parties prepare for trial — The lawyer should investigate all of the facts of the case and the applicable law; speak to witnesses; file motions and briefs; and, if appropriate, try to negotiate a plea bargain agreement.

Work to prepare for trial and negotiate a favorable resolution.


Parties present their case to a jury — The lawyer should pick a jury, argue the law, cross-examine the government’s witnesses, present any evidence that might suggest that the accused is not guilty, and argue the case.

Work to keep the government from proving the client guilty.


If the client lost at trial the judge (or, in Texas, the jury) decides what the punishment should be — The lawyer should present any mitigating evidence, and argue to the jury or judge.

Work to minimize punishment.


Houston Lawyers for Criminal ChargesA court of appeals (three judges, generally) decide if trial judge made mistakes in trial — The lawyer should review the record, write a brief, and argue the case (if oral argument is granted) before the court of appeals; if the first appeal is unsuccessful the lawyer should counsel the client on whether to appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals or United States Supreme Court.

Work to win a new trial or a judgment of acquittal.

Habeas Corpus

The defendant attacks the constitutionality of the proceedings — If appeal was not successful, the lawyer should attack the proceedings on constitutional grounds.

Understanding Criminal Charges

Bennett & Bennett