You were arrested and you are waiting on a court date. You faithfully call your bail bondsman every week. Finally, you get a letter from the court stating that you have an “announcement” or “1st appearance” coming up.
What to do? Here are 3 simple rules for Texas State Court Cases.
Rule 1. Never wait for a court date to hire an attorney. Find one now. If your case is a DWI, you are facing a critical 15 day dealine.
There are many advantanges to hiring counsel before your first date. Pitching a good defense or pointing out problems to the prosecutor early can pay dividends. For example, in some counties you can work out a diversion deal with the prosecutor so a case will never be filed. That will keep you from having to pay to clean up your record later (with a motion for non disclosure or expunction.)
Some courts have policies on how many court appearances you get before a case has to be set for trial. Do not waste an appearance showing up alone. It puts your lawyer at a disadvantage.
You decide to ignore rule 1 and go to court alone. Now what?
Rule 2. When you go to court do not speak to the prosecutor. The prosecutor represents the State, not you. The same State that arrested you and has filed charges against you.
Remember how you thought talking to the police would make things better? How did that turn out?
Talking to a prosecutor is a horrible risk. I used to be a prosecutor. I spoke to many pro se defendants. I assumed these defendants were a) Guilty and b) Lying.
Pro se defendants did not know that most of the “plea recommendations” I made for each case included a little room to negotiate with an attorney.
For example, I would rec some cases with a higher fine or longer term of probation that I would settle for. Why? To give something to the defense lawyer. When a lawyer comes to plea a case they always wanted to show the client “value” and I was happy to oblige.
Rule 3. Do not accept a plea bargain. If you just show up and take the State’s offer you have no frame of reference for what a good plea offer is in your court. Local counsel can help in that regard.
Many offenses have consequences the judge and prosecutor will not tell you about. Future enhancements, surcharges, loss of driver’s license, limits on gun ownership, and hurdles to employment to name a few.
Plea bargaining is not the sexy part of defense work. However, if you are going to plea you should do it right.