Over 10 million people get arrested every year in the United States. And many of those arrested are for criminal offenses.
That means jury trials, maybe even jail time, and a difficult process ahead of you.
If you or one of your loved ones has been arrested for a criminal offense, you need to be prepared. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you know what to expect during the many steps in a criminal case.
So let’s get started below.
Every criminal case begins with an arrest.
There are a few different ways this can happen. A police officer can arrest a person if they see the person committing a crime, but they can also arrest someone if they have probable cause to believe that person has committed a crime. A police officer can also arrest someone if they have a valid arrest warrant.
After the arrest, the police officer will book the suspect and place them in custody, depending on the type of offense. If the person committed a minor offense, they may be able to go home with a citation and instructions to show up in court at a later date.
Just because a person ends up in jail after the arrest doesn’t mean they have to stay there for the entire criminal case process. They may be able to get out on bail.
In order to do this, the person (or a friend or family member) must pay the bail amount, and the suspect must promise to show up to all scheduled court sessions. The suspect might be able to get out on bail right after the arrest, or they may have to wait for a bail review hearing.
During the arraignment, the suspect will appear in front of a judge for the first time in court. The charges against the defendant will then be read before the judge.
After this, the defendant will enter their plea, which can be guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
If the defendant can’t afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for them. This lawyer will help advise them about the different pleas and which one they should choose for their case.
And if the defendant hasn’t gotten out on bail yet, the bail can also be set at this arraignment.
4. Preliminary Hearing
A preliminary hearing involves a prosecutor presenting evidence to the judge in order to prove there is a “strong suspicion” that the defendant committed the crime.
If the judge agrees there is a strong suspicion, the prosecution will take the case to the next level: the trial court. If the judge doesn’t agree there is a strong suspicion, they will drop all charges against the defendant.
5. Second Arraignment
The second arraignment is almost identical to the first one. The difference is the defendant is arraigned in the trial level court of the Superior court this time.
But again, the charges will be read against the defendant, and they will enter their plea.
6. Pre-Trial Hearing
A pre-trial hearing is like a formal request to ask a judge to make a ruling on a legal matter. But it is also where the prosecution and defense will resolve any issues and decide what evidence and testimony will be allowed in the trial.
If the defendant wants to enter a plea bargain or try to settle, they can do it during the pre-trial hearing.
During the trial, both the prosecution and the defense will present their sides of the argument. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charges against them.
But it is up to the judge or jury to find the defendant either guilty or not guilty. Most defendants will have a jury trial, but if they don’t, the judge will make the decision by themselves.
If the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the judge will rule it a mistrial. After that, they will either choose a new jury or dismiss the case entirely.
If a defendant has been found guilty, the judge will determine the appropriate punishment during the sentencing.
The final sentence will depend on a number of things, including the nature of the crime, the severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, the defendant’s circumstances, and the amount of remorse the defendant feels.
After the sentencing, the convicted defendant can appeal their case. This means a higher court will review the case and look for any errors or other issues that might have contributed to the case.
If this higher court finds errors, they may decide to get the case re-tried. In some cases, they may even reverse the conviction.
Understanding the Steps in a Criminal Case
While there aren’t an overwhelming amount of steps in a criminal case, you have to remember that each step can take a long time. A defendant might have to wait 60 days between getting out on bail and their first court date, depending on where they live.
So be patient. The process will take longer than a few weeks.
That’s why you need to focus on finding a good lawyer as soon as possible. They can speed up the process and ensure you get the representation you need.
Not sure where to start looking?