The Misdemeanor Process
"It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys...not to convict, but to see that justice is done." Art. 2.01 Texas Code of Criminal Procedure
The County Attorney handles over 11,000 new misdemeanor cases each year. These crimes contribute to the steady erosion of our community's civility, order, and safety. These crimes, if undeterred, can and will erode the quality of life for all of the citizens of Nacogdoches County.
As Nacogdoches County grows, its citizens must remain vigilant to lower the number of these quality of life crimes. The County Attorney thanks all those citizens who contribute to public safety through jury service, volunteer organizations, and reports of crime to law enforcement.
Table of Contents
Classes of Misdemeanors:
This Office is responsible for the prosecution of all misdemeanor cases that are filed in Nacogdoches County. "Misdemeanor" is defined in the law as any crime where the maximum possible jail time is one year or less. There are three categories of misdemeanors: Class A; Class B; and Class C.
Class A misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and/or confinement in jail of up to one year. Some examples of Class A misdemeanor offenses include assault causing bodily injury, driving while intoxicated second offense or driving while intoxicated with a breath or blood result of .15 or higher, theft of property valued at $500 to $1500, and resisting arrest.
Class B misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or confinement in jail of up to six months. Some examples of Class B misdemeanor offenses include driving while intoxicated first offense, possession of marijuana less than two ounces, and telephone harassment.
Both Class A and B misdemeanors are handled in the three County-Courts-at-Law.
Class C misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of $500 or less and no jail time. Those cases are typically heard in the four Justice of the Peace courts in Nacogdoches County. Prosecutors from this office are assigned to prosecute those cases in the individual justice courts.
Anatomy of a Misdemeanor Criminal Case:
Arrest - A criminal case begins when a law enforcement agency makes an arrest based on probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been committed. After the arrest has been made, the case is sent to the County Attorney's Office. A prosecutor will read the offense report submitted by the law enforcement agency and make a decision on whether the case should be filed.
First Appearance Docket - A person charged with an offense is called a "defendant." Misdemeanor defendants are initially given a first appearance setting. For defendants who bond out of jail, this date is usually located on the bond paperwork. For defendants who do not bond out of jail, they are usually scheduled for court on the first Tuesday after the defendant was arrested. Defendants should dress appropriately for court. At this first setting, the Judge will advise you of your rights, including, among others, your right to counsel. Defendants may discuss their case with a prosecutor at this docket if the defendant chooses to do so. Usually, a prosecutor will provide the defendant and/or the defendant's attorney, an offer to resolve the case - often referred to as a plea bargain offer. The offer will usually be probation, jail time or fine only. If after visiting with a prosecutor, the defendant wants to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest, he may do so. If a defendant pleads guilty or no contest, the Judge will usually take the guilty plea on the same day. If a defendant pleads not guilty, the Judge will usually ask the defendant if he intends to hire a counsel or if he intends to represent himself. Some defendants may qualify for an appointed attorney if the Judge determines that the defendant meets indigency requirements.
Second Appearance - If your case is not resolved on the First Appearance Docket, your case may be reset a few weeks later for a Second Appearance or it may be scheduled for Docket Call and Jury Selection.
Docket Call - If your case is not resolved on the First Appearance Docket, the case will likely be set for Docket Call. Docket Call is a last opportunity for you and/or your attorney and the prosecutors to discuss the case. If the case is not resolved at Docket Call, the case will be set for jury selection two weeks later.
Trial Before the Court - A defendant may waive his or her right to a trial by jury. The case can then be heard by the judge in a trial before the court. The prosecutor must also agree to waive trial by jury in order to have a trial before the court. The judge decides the guilt or innocence of the defendant as well as any punishment.
Jury Trial - A jury trial is the embodiment of the American criminal justice system. Six people are selected from a pool of citizens called a "venire." Those six people sit as a jury in the criminal trial of the defendant. The jury hears the testimony and evidence. After the evidence has been presented, the jury "deliberates" or discusses the facts of the case amongst themselves and decides a verdict of guilty or not guilty. The jury may only return a verdict of guilty if they are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt.
Plea Setting - Most criminal cases in the United States are resolved without a trial through a process known as plea bargaining. Plea bargaining allows for fair and just resolution of criminal cases while effectively conserving the resources of the criminal justice system.