Criminal Justice System Overview

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Overview of the Criminal Justice System

The following information is intended to provide a brief overview of the criminal justice system.  This is not an exhaustive explanation, nor is anything contained on this website legal advice.  If you have any questions about the process, please contact your attorney or our office with questions.  

Basic Steps of the Criminal Justice System

The basic timeline of a criminal case is laid out below, but every case is different and may vary.  Some hearings may be waived and sometimes the process is continued or delayed:

  1. Crime Occurs
  2. Investigation: Law Enforcement will investigate the crime until they feel they have discovered enough evidence to charge the suspect.
  3. Complaint and Affidavit Signed 
  4. Arrest
  5. Initial Appearance: Defendants held in custody must be taken before a judge within 24 hours of arrest.  The Initial Appearance ensures that the defendant was properly charged, that an attorney is appointed to represent the defendant (if necessary), and bail is properly set
  6. Preliminary Hearing or Trial Information Filed: The preliminary hearing is held to determine if sufficient evidence exists to justify charging the defendant.  Typically, the Dallas County Attorney's Office files a Trial Information instead of conducting a preliminary hearing. 
  7. Arraignment: At arraignment the defendant is formally charged and enters their plea of guilty or not guilty. 
  8. Plea entered (Guilty plea: go to step 13, Not Guilty: plea go to step 9)
  9. Discovery of Evidence: The defendant has the right to "discover" or review the state's evidence against them.  
  10. Pre-Trial Matters:
    1. Motions
    2. Plea negotiations
    3. Depositions 
  11. Trial: The defendant has the right to be tried within 90 days of the filing the Trial Information.  The Defendant may waive this right if they chose. 
    1. Jury Selection
    2. Opening Statements
    3. State's Evidence
    4. Defense Evidence
    5. Closing Arguments
    6. Court's Instructions to the Jury
    7. Jury Deliberation
  12. Jury Verdict (Guilty: go to step 13.  Not Guilty: Defendant is released)
  13. Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI): In some cases, the Court may order a PSI to help determine the appropriate sentence. Victims of the crime are allowed to submit victim impact statements to the judge to consider when imposing a sentence 
  14. Sentence (Incarceration or Probation)