The biggest mistake many defendants make is simply not talking to an attorney. The prosecution must not only prove that you committed the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, a very high burden, but it must do so within the confines of the law, such as by following the Texas and U.S Constitutions, the rules of evidence, the code of criminal procedure and so on. The prosecution can meet this high burden in many cases, which explains why the vast majority of criminal cases plea out, but are you sure your case is one of these? An attorney could very well discover that you have a defense you didn’t know about, that the evidence you think is damning isn’t, that certain evidence could be thrown out, etc. Every case is different, of course, but without talking to a criminal defense attorney you might be missing a valid argument in your favor.
Even if, after talking to an attorney, you’ve decided that a plea agreement is in your best interest, not all plea agreements are created equal. A plea agreement should work for you and your situation. There are many different tools the trade attorneys know, especially those who practice in the area, and this can make a huge difference in your unique situation. For instance, perhaps serving on the weekends is an option, or probation would be too difficult if you move to X county, or perhaps your risk of violating probation makes a short jail stint more enviable. There is no one-size-fits-all option and an attorney can work with you and the prosecution to get the best result.
Can anything be done before I’ve been charged?
If you were arrested and released on bond, you might be surprised to find that the government (the prosecution) has a great deal of time, if it wishes to use it, to charge you for the offense. Generally, the State of Texas has two years from the offense date to charge for misdemeanors, and three years for many felonies, and some crimes have an unlimited time frame to charge, such as murder and sexual assault of a child. So, you might be out of jail for quite some time before charged via information or indictment (done through a grand jury). In that time you don’t have to sit on your hands and wait. A criminal defense attorney can still be of service even at this stage.
The prosecution may be willing to offer pre-trial diversion, which is probation that, if completed, precludes the filing of a charge in the first place. An attorney can also be helpful in getting your side of the story across when it appears law enforcement is under some misconception as to the facts. Even if an attorney cannot prevent a charge from being filed, he can be a valuable teacher and apprise you of what could happen once you are charged. Just knowing what could happen and what you’re up against is extremely important for your peace of mind in such a troubling time. And last, but certainly not least, an attorney can tell you what rights you have and can advise you want to do…and what not to do.
After conviction, defendants can still sometimes benefit from a criminal defense attorney. Those on probation could try for early release if they’ve completed all conditions of probation. Those who were on deferred adjudication (probation that if completed leads to no conviction), will need what is called an order of non-disclosure to get the arrest and deferred adjudication finding off their record.
Those on parole can face serious consequences if facing revocation and could benefit from an attorney.
And those whose charges were dismissed can try to get the arrest off their record through a petition for expunction of criminal records.
Texaslawhelp.org is helpful for those that want help with their criminal record (expunction, order of non-disclosure, etc.). I cannot vouch for the forms, as TLC Law is not affiliated with Texas Law Help and it is an organization focused on helping those that don’t/can’t afford an attorney.