The Court Process
Interviewer: What happens during the initial arraignment?
Gary Churak: It depends on what county you’re in. Some counties actually have an arraignment docket where you basically show up in court, they read the charge against you, you plead guilty or you plead not guilty, and the case gets reset for pretrial. That happens in a lot of counties. Other counties, like Bexar County in San Antonio, don’t have arraignments, they just have a regular old docket call, where your case is on the docket and that starts the preceding. Arraignments are basically a pretrial matter. You usually have an arraignment, followed by two or three pretrial hearings where you try to talk to the prosecutor and look at the discovery, and then you get on the trial docket and move on from there. That is usually the way the system works.
Interviewer: How long will a case generally last?
Gary Churak: That depends on where you are at. In San Antonio, a misdemeanor case can go a year, year and a half, to two years. A felony may continue for sometimes two years, to two and a half years. In some counties it may be longer and in some counties it may be shorter, just depends on what their dockets look like.
First Time Offense
Interviewer: Is there any sort of leniency for first time offenders?
Gary Churak: There is. In some counties, they will do what is called a pretrial diversion case. In San Antonio, that is something brand new that they established for first time youth offenders, those under the age of twenty-one. Pretrial diversion is basically probation, you do everything you are supposed to do and we’ll just make the case go away. The benefit of having a pretrial diversion is that you can come back at a later date, once you complete the program and get it expunged. An expunction is a complete wipe-out of any criminal record concerning that particular case. An alternative is a petition for non-disclosure, you are just limited to an order of non-disclosure on the case and that is not a complete sealing of the record. Governmental agencies, school districts, and a lot of other people will be able to see it. Pretrial diversion is definitely an advantage, if it can be obtained, especially in marijuana cases. Pretrial diversion is usually most prevalent in misdemeanor offenses.