Q: I feel that a crime has been committed. How do I press charges? Can I report a crime directly to the Criminal District Attorney’s Office?
A: In most cases, crimes should be reported to the police department or other law enforcement agency which has jurisdiction over the city or county where the crime occurred. A list of telephone numbers is provided on our Contacts Page. For example, if the crime occurred in Arlington, it should be reported to the Arlington Police Department. If the crime was committed in any unincorporated area of Tarrant County, or in an area where the Tarrant County Sheriff is the contracting law enforcement agency, the crime should be reported to the Sheriff. The Criminal District Attorney’s Office does review allegations of white collar or business crimes directly from citizens. A complaint form can be found on the page for the Economic Crimes Unit.
Q: I am a victim in a criminal case and I want to drop the charges. Can I do that?
A: The decision to drop charges in any criminal prosecution can only be made by a prosecutor with the approval of a judge. The victim’s wishes alone do not dictate whether or not a case will be filed, tried or dismissed. If you would like to discuss your case, you should speak with the prosecutor.
Q: What if a defense attorney contacts me about the case?
A: You may be contacted by defense attorneys or investigators seeking to discuss the case with you. While you are free to speak about the case with anyone you choose, you are not required to do so. If you decide to discuss the case with the defense attorney or investigator, we would like to have someone from our staff present during the interview. You are not required to discuss the case with a representative of the defense and may decline to do so. If you wish, you may simply refer the defense attorney to our office for any information he/she wants and decline to discuss the case.
Q: Does the Judge appoint investigators for the defense in criminal cases?
A: In some cases, private investigators assist defense attorneys in case preparation. If the defendant is indigent, the judge may appoint an attorney and an investigator to aid the defendant. However, in no case will the investigator be working for the judge; he/she will report his/her investigation to the defense attorney. Require anyone who claims to be investigating “for the judge” or “for the court” to show identification and be sure to examine it closely. All Criminal District Attorney Investigators carry a badge and picture identification signed by the Criminal District Attorney. Call our office before you talk about the case if you have any doubts. You are under no duty to discuss the case with a defense investigator.
Q: What is a grand jury?
A: A grand jury is a body of 12 citizens who consider whether indictments should be returned in felony cases. An indictment is a document which sets out the crimes that the grand jury has probable cause to believe the defendant committed. The Criminal District Attorney has no control over the selection of grand jurors. Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public, and witnesses take an oath of secrecy before testifying.
Q: What does a grand jury do?
A: Unless a defendant waives an indictment, Texas law requires action by the grand jury before a felony case can be brought to trial. If the grand jury believes that there is sufficient evidence to prove that a person has committed a felony, it votes to issue an indictment. At least nine grand jurors must vote in favor of an indictment, or the case is “no-billed,” which terminates the case. The Criminal District Attorney assists the grand jury in hearing evidence and preparing indictments, but the actual deliberations on cases are secret and only the grand jurors are present when deliberation and voting is in progress.
Q: Does the Criminal District Attorney’s Office provide copies of police reports?
A: No. Reports are obtained through the law enforcement agency which originally investigated the case.
Q: Can I talk to Mr. Shannon? I think he’s the person who is working on my case.
A: Mr. Shannon is the elected Criminal District Attorney of Tarrant County and, as such, his name appears on most court documents and office correspondence just above the name of the prosecutor who prepared the document. This person is known as an Assistant District Attorney. The person who is working on your case is most likely the person who actually signed the court document or the correspondence.
Q: What if I am a witness in a criminal case?
A: Prior to your appearance in court, go over the facts of the case in your mind. When you take the witness stand, get comfortable, sit erect and look around to familiarize yourself with the court surroundings.
In testifying, the first rule is to tell the truth. Don’t answer questions with half-truths. Don’t try to judge whether an answer is going to help or hurt one side or the other. Don’t let your personal judgment of who should win or lose color your testimony. Avoid expressing your opinion about the guilt or innocence of the involved parties. That is the job of the jury. As a witness, your sole duty is to tell it like you saw it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Answer the questions clearly and loudly enough so everyone can hear you. Look at the jury and address your remarks to it so that the jury members will be able to hear and understand what you have to say.
Be serious at all times. The courtroom is not the place to be cute or humorous.
Do not memorize your testimony. It will sound rehearsed and lack the ring of truth.
Listen to the question carefully. If you do not hear a question, ask that it be repeated. If you do not understand a question, ask that it be rephrased. Don’t attempt to guess at an answer to a question that you didn’t understand or hear. If you do not know the answer to the question, state simply that you do not know.
Answer directly and simply only the questions asked of you, and then stop. Do not volunteer information.
Answer the questions verbally. Your testimony is being recorded (either tape recorded or written down). No head shakes or head nods, or “uh-huh” / “uh-uh” instead of saying “yes” / “no.”
If you make a mistake in answering a question, correct it immediately.
If a question can’t be truthfully answered with a “yes” or “no,” you have a right to explain the answer.
If an objection is made by one of the lawyers, or the judge speaks, stop your testimony immediately. Do not try to complete your answer.
Don’t argue with the lawyer asking the questions.
While testifying on cross-examination, don’t look to the lawyer who originally called you to the witness stand for help in answering the question. You are on your own. If the question is improper, the lawyer will object and the judge will rule. It is important, however, that you listen to the objection so that you understand why it is being made.
If you are asked whether or not you have talked to anyone about your testimony before coming to court, be sure to answer “yes” if you have. There is nothing wrong with discussing the facts with the lawyers, parties, police, or investigators prior to trial.
Be natural. Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you are not. If you relax and tell the truth, you will get along fine.
Being a witness is not as it is shown on television. The judge will not permit a lawyer to abuse you. Remember that the judge or jurors are very interested in what you have to say. They depend upon you to be forthright and truthful.
Q: I have already given oral or written statements. Why should I go to court to testify when I have already provided a previous statement?
A: The Judge does not allow the written or recorded statement into evidence. The law requires the witness to appear in court, tell his/her story under oath and be subject to questioning by all parties.
Q: What is a pretrial hearing?
A: After a felony case has been considered by a grand jury and an indictment returned, the case will be scheduled for a pretrial hearing. At the pretrial hearing the defendant and his attorney usually advise the judge whether the defendant wants a trial or will plead guilty. Certain motions concerning legal issues may be heard at a pretrial hearing. Occasionally, a witness may be needed in a pretrial hearing, and if your presence is required, you will be notified well in advance of the setting.
Q: Negotiated Pleas – Will this case be “Plea bargained?”
A: The prosecutor and the defendant, through his/her lawyer, will frequently reach an agreement prior to trial about the disposition of the case. This also happens in most civil cases. This agreement will then be presented to the judge. There are a number of reasons why this practice is necessary, but the policy of the Criminal District Attorney’s Office is to consult with all the victims of violent crimes involving personal assault or injury before finalizing any negotiated plea agreement. If you are concerned about a plea agreement in your case, contact the Criminal District Attorney’s Office immediately. A victim does not have the final word on the disposition of the case even though their wishes are considered.
Q: As a witness do I have to talk in front of the defendant in court?
A: The defendant must be present in court to hear what all the witnesses say about him/her. The lawyer for the defendant is called the defense attorney and may ask you questions.
Q: Can I be compensated for my efforts as a witness?
A: As a general rule, Texas law does not authorize any compensation for witnesses testifying in criminal matters. Exceptions are made in cases where the witness is from out of state or from outside the county in which the trial is held, in which case travel expenses and a per diem are allowed.
Q: What is a Victim Impact Statement?
A: This form is distributed to the victim, guardian of a victim or close relative of a deceased victim of a violent crime (ex. sexual assault, aggravated assault). The form does not apply to the victim of a property crime (ex. burglary, theft). This form should be completed by you promptly and returned to the Criminal District Attorney’s Office so that it may be reviewed by the assistant criminal district attorney assigned to the case and presented to the court at the proper time. It is also forwarded to the Pardons and Paroles Division or the Community Supervision and Corrections Department (Probation Department).
Q: If I am the victim of a violent crime, may I receive compensation for expenses I have incurred?
A: You may make an application under the Crime Victims Compensation Act to compensate you for reasonable medical, drug, counseling and rehabilitation expenses. Additional expenses are also covered. Please talk with the Victim Assistance Coordinator at the Criminal District Attorney’s Office for more details - 817-884-2740.
Q: Who will be with me in court?
A: You may bring friends or relatives with you to court, and they can probably sit in the courtroom while you testify, unless they are also witnesses. (Witnesses testify one at a time and generally wait outside the courtroom for their turn). A Victim Assistance staff member may also be with you, if you request.
Q: How long will I be at court as a witness?
A: Your courtroom time, while actually testifying, may not take long; it depends upon many factors. Most of the time you will just be waiting for your turn to testify. You and your family and friends are encouraged to bring a book or magazine to read while you wait.
Q: What is a subpoena?
A: A subpoena or summons is a court order directing a person to appear in court at a stated date and time, usually for the purpose of giving testimony. If you receive a subpoena, you must appear in court when and where you are directed to do so. If you believe that you cannot appear when subpoenaed, call the Criminal District Attorney’s Office or the appropriate clerk’s office at once.
Q: What if I can’t attend court as a witness on the date stated in the subpoena?
A: If you have a date conflict, you should contact the Criminal District Attorney Investigator immediately to discuss your conflict. In some cases, the prosecutor handling the case can put you “on call” (so that you can go to work or school on the day you are subpoenaed, and you will be called at a pre-arranged phone number an hour or so before you are needed in court). If you are subpoenaed by the defendant, you should let the defense attorney know of your conflict as well as the prosecutor. They will endeavor to work out a solution to your problem.
Q: What if I am having trouble getting off work?
A: If your employer fails to give you time off from work to testify, please let us know. We can, if you want us to, contact your employer and ask for cooperation. We can also provide verification of the need for your attendance in court with dates and times, and usually the approximate length of time you will need to be absent from work. Aside from problems with an employer, if you have any other difficulty connected with appearing in court, let us know and we will make every effort to help.