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Stages in a Criminal Case

Pre-Trial Settings:

Pre-Trial Setting: A general term used to describe any court setting scheduled before a trial setting.

Non-Trial Setting: A term used to describe any setting that is not a trial setting.

Motion Setting: A court setting requested by either the attorney representing the defendant or the attorney representing the State and the victim, asking the court to rule on a legal issue. Examples of motions include a motion for continuance, to suppress evidence ( such as improperly seized property), or to set a trial date.

Examining Trial: A “mini-trial” where the court hears only enough evidence from both sides to establish whether or not there is probable cause to believe that a criminal act was committed by the defendant. There is not always an examining trial setting; sometimes the case moves directly to Grand Jury. If an examining trial is held, witnesses may be subpoenaed to appear.

Grand Jury: A selected group of twelve citizens, who meet for a three-month term. They are charged with the responsibility of deciding the issue of probable cause in a criminal case. An assistant district attorney presents the outline of the case, then leaves the room, giving the Grand Jury the complete case file. The Grand Jury then votes in secret to return a true bill(indictment) or a nobill(the case is found to be lacking sufficient evidence and is dismissed). The Grand Jury can reconsider a case which was no-billed only if sufficient new evidence has become available. Witnesses may or may not be subpoenaed to appear before the Grand Jury. If the defendant is subpoenaed to appear, he must meet with the Grand Jury alone; his attorney is not allowed to accompany him. Once the Grand Jury indicts the defendant, there is no need to hold an examining trial.

Arraignment: A court hearing where the indictment is presented to the defendant; the defendant is formally charged, told he should have an attorney, and that if he cannot afford one, one will be appointed for him. At this setting, a plea of “Not Guilty” is rountinely given, (or no plea at all), and the first of several pre-trial settings is scheduled. Since a trial is held to establish the guilt or innocence of the defendant, if the defendant enters a “guilty” plea, he has admitted his guilt. There is then no need for a trial or the testimony of witnessess. The defendant who admits his guilt moves on to the punishment stage, and testimony may be needed at that time.

Elements of a Trial:

The trial is the most effective method our society has devised to settle disputes among people. A trial is a method of gathering facts and drawing a conclusion for those facts while operating under a procedural code.

In a jury trial, the jury must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime with which he is charged.   The standard means that a member of the jury must have no reasonable doubts about the defendant’s guilt.   If a juror does have a reasonable doubt, the juror must vote “not guilty”.

The progress of the trial is as follows:

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