Misdemeanors: A Texas Roadmap

If someone is charged with a misdemeanor, they face a different road than someone charged with a felony. While the punishment is lighter, the steps are no less complex.


Misdemeanor arrests area affected just like felony arrests, but most often they are eyewitness cases. That is, a police officer observed criminal behavior and arrested the individual. For instance, is someone is visibly intoxicated and walking down the street and an officer sees them, they will be arrested for public intoxication. In other cases, a civilian may be called upon to sign an arrest warrant if he or she saw the illegal behavior.

First Appearance

Unlike felony cases, there is no grand jury or preliminary hearing where the arrest’s validity is double checked. Instead, the case goes immediately to first appearance, in county or municipal court, depending on where the violation took place. At this first appearance, the accused may plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. No contest simply means that the accused is not going to dispute the allegation but he is not admitting guilt. In the event of a no contest or guilty plea, the case is set for sentencing. Depending entirely on the court, that sentencing may take place on the same day or the case may be set over for another date. Unless your Houston area criminal defense attorney advises otherwise, it is always in the accused’s best interest to come prepared to pay fines on the date of the first appearance. Otherwise, he may be required to return to court and sit through the entire process again


Should the accused plead not guilty, the case will be set for trial. In Texas, misdemeanor cases allow for jury trials or “bench” trials, which are held before a judge. While in felony cases, defendant can waive the jury trial on his own, in misdemeanor cases, the prosecutor must also agree to waive the jury. Furthermore, in Texas, misdemeanor jury trials have only six jurors. However, the rules of the trial remain the same. The prosecution is held to the same “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, and the accused has the identical Constitutional rights as exist in a felony trial.


In the unfortunate event that the accused is found guilty of the misdemeanor, after he is sentenced, he has the right to appeal that conviction. Only certain things can be appealed. Often Mr. Pham has cases where his clients say, “remember to bring up (x) on appeal.” The facts of the case cannot be litigated on appeal. Instead, the appeal is a place to dispute the judge’s legal decisions. For example, incorrect jury instructions or improper admission of evidence are two of the most often seen issues on appeal. While appeals are usually only successful around 5% of the time, Mr. Pham can advise you whether an appeal is advisable in your criminal case.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, and you want an experienced and aggressive criminal defense lawyer, contact Houston attorney Michael H. Pham at (713) 236-7791.

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