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From Crime to Punishment
Your Police Department in Action
DA's Duties Help Define Justice
Team Effort
Results in
Murder Conviction

August 30, 2020
The Post Newspaper

image of The Post Newspaper's front pageThis week I want to give you some background about how the Criminal District Attorney’s office works, giving you a foundation for next the next column when we will look at the DA’s involvement in a high-profile murder case.
  • With few exceptions, the DA’s office gets cases from law enforcement.  If a citizen comes to the DA with a potential case, they are typically referred to their local police department.  This is because law enforcement is an “investigative agency” and the DA has limited investigative resources.

  • In order for the DA to accept a case, there must be enough evidence to show “probable cause” that the suspect had committed an offense.

  • In working with local law enforcement, the DA’s office advises or provides assistance (e.g., helping determine what evidence is needed, obtaining search warrants, getting phone or bank records).

  • Before a felony case can go to trial, it must first go before the Grand Jury; there are two Grand Juries in session in Galveston County at any given time.  The Grand Jury may indict suspects after determining there’s enough evidence to show “probable cause” that the person committed a crime.  They don’t determine guilt; only that there is enough evidence to go to trial.

  • A suspect may request to present witnesses, but the Grand Jury decides whether it will hear them.  In most cases a prosecutor lays out the evidence for the case and the Grand Jury decides whether to indict the suspect.

  • The DA’s office may consider plea agreements.  In doing so the defendant must take responsibility for his/her actions by admitting guilt. The DA’s office will typically offer a sentence that’s less than what a judge/jury might award because the outcome is certain.  In order for a plea agreement to be accepted it must be agreed to by both the defendant and the judge.

  • Typically, prosecutors are assigned by courts, not by specific cases.  Once the Grand Jury indicts, the prosecutors for that court must be ready to go to trial. However, the judge decides when a case will be heard.

  • If a case goes to trial and the defendant is found guilty the DA makes a sentencing recommendation.  In doing so he takes into account things like is this a first-time offense, what are the victim’s wishes, how serious was the crime, was there premeditation, etc.

  • Above all, the role of the DA’s office is to see that “justice” is done, not to convict at all costs. When I was overseeing elections in Galveston County there was a case where two elderly voters attempted to vote twice. That’s a crime! But our election judge told us they were confused as to whether they had already voted.  As required, we reported these instances to the DA’s office but with the recommendation that they not be prosecuted.  They agreed, called the voters, talked with them and then closed the case. That is an example of justice being served.

Acknowledgement: I appreciate Jack Roady’s willingness to consent to an interview that lasted almost two hours in preparation for this column.

Author and Columnist
Photo of Bill (Sarge) Sargent
August 30, 2020