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From Arrest to Trial: A Step-By-Step Overview of the Criminal Legal Process

The Law Firm of Andrea M. Kolski

Knowledge is power and this is particularly true if you or a loved one has been charged with a crime. Therefore, it is important to understand what happens after you or someone you love has been arrested for a crime. Read on for a step-by-step overview of the criminal legal process from arrest through trial.

Arrest/Notice to Appear

The criminal legal process begins with an arrest or a notice to appear. If you have been arrested you will be fingerprinted and have your photo taken. If you’ve received a notice to appear, you must show up to face a judge at a specified day, time, and location.

Initial Appearance (Arraignment & Bail)

If you were arrested your initial appearance in front of the judge will take place within 48 hours in nearly all cases. If you were served with a notice to appear your initial appearance will be at the predetermined date and time. Failure to show up will result in a warrant for your arrest being issued.

During this appearance, the judge will confirm your identity, and read the charges against you. You may plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charges. It is in your best interest to plead not guilty for all charges. Bail will then be set by the judge, and your next court appearance will be scheduled.

Filing of Charges

The prosecutor must file formal charges after your arraignment. If you’ve been charged with a Class C misdemeanor the charges are filed in the form of a complaint. If you are charged with a Class A or Class misdemeanor, the charges are filed in the form of information. If you’re charged with a file, the charges are filed as an indictment. If an indictment is filed, the charges will go to a grand jury to confirm or deny the probable cause of guilt. If 9 or more of the 12 jurors do not find probable cause, the charges are not filed.

Pretrial Hearings/Plea Bargaining

After the filing of charges, the weeks or months between your next court appearance will include plea negotiations between your defense attorney and the prosecution. Defendants must be told of any opportunity to plead guilty to reduced charges. If a plea agreement is reached, a trial is averted. As many as 90% of criminal charges result in plea bargains. Keep in mind though, a judge is not obligated to accept a plea bargain, even if the defense and prosecution agree to a plea. Defendants are not under any obligation to accept a plea bargain, either.


If a plea bargain is not reached on charges, the case will be set for trial. In Texas, by default, trials are set before a judge. However, every defendant has the right to trial by jury. During the trial, the prosecution will lay out their case. In a criminal case, the prosecution is responsible for proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crimes they have been charged with. This is known as the burden of proof. Your defense attorney then gets to present your defense.


If the prosecution is successful, in proving beyond reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the charges against you, you will be convicted. If your defense attorney is instead successful in poking holes in the prosecution’s case, you may be completely exonerated or cleared of some of the charges against you.


Sentencing may be mandated by state or federal law, depending upon the type of crime you are convicted of in Texas. Punishments for being convicted of a crime may include jail or prison time, and fines. Lesser charges often do not require jail time or offer alternatives such as probation.


All defendants convicted of a crime are entitled to appeal the verdict. If you choose to appeal your verdict, your defense lawyer may handle your appeal, or they may refer you to an appellate attorney.

Arrested in The Woodlands? Hire An Award-Winning Attorney

If you’ve been arrested, time is of the essence. Contact the Law Firm of Andrea M. Kolski. A former prosecutor, Andrea has been named a Top 100 National Trial Lawyer. She uses her previous experience as a prosecutor to zealously defend each client, whether you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or first degree felony. Call 832-381-3430.

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The Woodlands, TX 77381

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