Two primary considerations should govern the actions of the District Attorney and his staff: First, it is the duty of the District Attorney not just to convict, but to see that justice is done (Art. 2.01, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure). Second, the overwhelming importance of the public prosecutor arises from the authority, granted by state law, to determine whether prosecution should be commenced in any particular case, and if commenced, pursued to a successful conclusion (Art. 5, Sec. 21, Constitution of Texas).
What does the Williamson County District Attorney do?
The Williamson County District Attorney represents ALL of the people of Williamson County in adult felony cases. He should work towards the ends of justice without caring about the social status, the financial status, or the political party affiliation of the complaining witness, the victim, or the defendant.
Criminal cases in Texas are styled "The State of Texas versus John Doe." The prosecutor conducts the prosecution of his cases in the name of and as the legal representative of all of the people within his jurisdiction.
The District Attorney is responsible for prosecuting adult felony criminal offenses that are committed in Williamson County, Texas. A felony means any serious offense that is punishable by a sentence of death or confinement in state prison or state jail. Such offenses include murder, robbery, sexual assault, burglary and major drug and theft offenses.
The District Attorney is the chief lawyer for the people in felony cases. He prosecutes all felony criminal matters involving adult defendants. Williamson County taxpayers provide him with a staff of approximately twelve assistant district attorneys as well as additional investigators and support personnel.
The District Attorney's office is located on the second floor of the Williamson County Justice Center, which is located at 405 Martin Luther King Street in Georgetown. The Williamson County Jail is next door to the Justice Center.
The District Attorney is an elected official whose authority arises under the executive power of the State of Texas. His term of office is for a period of four years. Any vacancy in the DA's office is filled by appointment of the Texas governor and the appointee then stands for election in the next general election held in November of even-numbered years.
Williamson County currently has a population of more than 440,000 people. Out of 254 counties in Texas, only eleven counties in Texas have a larger population.
Many law enforcement agencies in Williamson County investigate felony cases for prosecution by the district attorney. Upon completion of an investigation, those agencies forward complaints alleging felony offenses to the District Attorney's Office. These agencies include: city police departments in the county, the sheriff's department, state troopers, narcotics investigators, and the Texas Rangers.
When a new case is received at the DA's office, it is evaluated by the district attorney's staff. They will decide if: (1) the case merits prosecution as a felony offense and, if so, what type of felony charge to file against the defendant, or (2) the case would best be handled as a misdemeanor and should be referred to the county attorney's office, or (3) additional information needs to be gathered about the facts of the case or the defendant before deciding what to do with the incoming case.
Felony cases are assigned to a District Court after the cases are reviewed by the District Attorney's staff. Williamson County currently has three district courts which handle felony cases:
26th District Court Judge--Billy Ray Stubblefield
277th District Court Judge--Ken Anderson
368th District Court Judge--Burt Carnes
Prosecutors make punishment recommendations based on the facts of the offense and the criminal history (or lack thereof) of the defendant. Prosecutors decide whether to offer probation (where all or part of the punishment is suspended for a period of time while the defendant is subject to numerous specific probation conditions). If probation is not going to be offered in the case, the prosecutor decides how much incarceration time and/or how much fine he will recommend for the case.
Almost all Williamson County felony defendants will receive a punishment recommendation from the district attorney's office before their case ever goes to a grand jury. The punishment offer is communicated to the defense attorney. The defense attorney is responsible for conveying the offer to the defendant and fully explaining the details of the offer to the defendant. If the offer is accepted by the defendant and his attorney, then the defendant waives his right to have his case presented to a grand jury and a guilty plea is entered in front of a district judge. The case is then reset for a sentencing hearing to be held a few weeks later in order to allow the probation department to prepare a presentence report for the judge.
If a felony case cannot be disposed of fairly soon by reaching an agreement with the defendant and his attorney, the case will be presented to a grand jury. The grand jury will decide to return an indictment (and the case will proceed as an indicted felony case) or the grand jury will "NO BILL" the case and it is dismissed.
Plea bargains. The overwhelming majority of Williamson County felony criminal cases (over ninety five percent) are disposed of through plea bargains with the defense attorney and the defendant. The parties reach an agreement on what charge the defendant will plead guilty to, whether probation will be a part of the sentence, how much time the defendant will be incarcerated, the amount of the fine that the defendant will have to pay, etc. The judge has to approve the plea bargain before the agreement takes effect and the defendant is sentenced accordingly. Most of the time the judge will approve the plea bargain. If the judge objects to the plea bargain, he will usually tell the parties what adjustments will have to be made to the plea bargain before it will become acceptable to the judge.
Plea bargains are used in misdemeanor and felony criminal cases because it is an efficient way to deal with the large volume of cases that pass through the justice system. Prosecutors use plea bargains as a way to minimize the risk of getting an unsatisfactory result in a trial, save money for the county, and to produce a quick and final disposition of the case. Defendants generally waive their right to appeal the case as part of the plea bargain.
Cases that are not resolved by plea bargains are the ones that proceed to a trial by jury or a trial by judge. Most Williamson County felony cases that go to trial are decided by a jury of twelve citizens from the county. In a relatively few cases, the defendant will waive his right to a jury trial and opt for a trial by judge.
Most local felony jury trials will last three or four days. The trial starts by selecting a jury. The state will present its evidence and the defense will then present any evidence it wishes to present. The state can then put on rebuttal evidence. The court's charge (which explains the law applicable to the case) is then read to the jury. Final arguments are made to the jury. The jury deliberates and then returns a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, then the case proceeds to the punishment phase. If the defendant has elected the jury to determine punishment, then the jury will decide punishment after both sides present punishment evidence.
What is the role of the Williamson County Attorney in criminal cases? Misdemeanor (minor) offenses, juvenile cases, and traffic offenses are prosecuted by the Williamson County Attorney, which is a different elected official. Juvenile cases are generally felony and misdemeanor cases committed by children who are between ten and seventeen years old. (Under Texas law, a person becomes an adult for the purposes of criminal law on his/her seventeenth birthday. In certain serious juvenile cases, the juvenile can be certified and tried as an adult in district court.) Ideally, the district attorney and the county attorney and their entire staffs will work closely together and refer cases to each other's offices to best serve the interests of justice and the interests of their community.
Texas prosecutors have tremendous discretion when dealing with offenses that come to their offices. The District Attorney sets office policies for their entire staffs. A felony prosecutor gets to decide if a case is worthy of prosecution as a felony, and if so, what type of felony offense should be charged. A district attorney may decide that the case could best be dealt with by referring it to the county attorney for misdemeanor prosecution.
Because of the tremendous discretion that we allow our prosecutors to exercise, the public has a right to demand that the elected District Attorney be someone whose judgment can be relied upon to ensure that appropriate punishment is meted out to those who deserve punishment. The public has a right to expect that punishments will not be excessive or too lenient. It goes without saying that the public has the right to expect that a prosecutor and his/her staff will not rush to judgment when a new case arrives in the office and make serious errors that will result in great harm to an innocent person.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads in part as follows:
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed...."
"You'll get a fair trial followed by a first class hanging."
--Judge Roy Bean
"There's the King's Messenger. He's in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn't begin until next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all. 'Suppose he never commits the crime?' said Alice. 'That would be all the better, wouldn't it?' the Queen said."
Political Ad Paid For by Ken Crain for District Attorney, PO Box 956, Georgetown, TX 78627-0956, John Duer, Attorney at Law, Treasurer