The 7 Stages of a Criminal Case
If you have been arrested for a crime, keep in mind that you are at the beginning of a potentially long journey with your criminal case.
This can be a scary experience – there is nothing that scares people more than the unknown. However, if you know what to expect, it can make things a little less frightening and uncertain for you.
What to Expect with a Criminal Case
Although each state may have a slightly different process, most criminal cases follow the same steps until they are resolved.
Some cases have a quick ending with a guilty plea and a fine, while others can go on for many years via the appeals process. Here is a brief look at the 7 stages of a criminal case:
- Arrest: When you are arrested for a crime, it is the beginning of your criminal case. You may be arrested by a police officer if there is probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime, if they observe you committing a crime, or there is a valid arrest warrant against you. After the arrest comes the booking process. This is when you are processed into police custody, your photograph and fingerprints are taken and then the police do a background check. Once the booking process is complete, you are placed in custody and may have to undergo
- Bail: If you are granted bail while in police custody, you may pay the bail to be released. This release is contingent on your promise to appear at all scheduled proceedings at court. You may be granted bail immediately after being booked or at a later review hearing for bail. You may also be released on your own recognizance. You do not have to post bail if you are released on your own recognizance, but you will need to give an undertaking in writing to appear at all scheduled court appearances.
- Arraignment: You make your debut appearance in court at the arraignment. During this stage, the judge reads out all the charges filed against you and you choose to plead “not guilty”, “guilty”, or “no contest” to those charges. After this, the judge will review your bail and set dates for proceedings in the future.
- Grand Jury Proceedings or Preliminary Hearing: Generally, the government brings criminal charges in one of two ways – grand jury indictment or a “bill of information” that is secured by a preliminary hearing. Cases must be brought by indictment in the federal system, however, states are free to use either process. Both grand juries and preliminary hearings are used to establish probable cause. If there is no probable cause finding, you will not be forced to stand trial.
- Pre-trial Motions: Both the defense and prosecution bring pre-trial motions to resolve any final issues and also to establish what testimony and evidence will be admissible in court during your trial. This is when your lawyer can try to exclude some of the evidence against you and try to establish some ground rules for your trial by making a few pre-trial motions. This is also when either the prosecution or defense can request a change of venue. Rulings that are made during this stage of you case can also be used to appeal your case later.
- Criminal Trial: If you are not satisfied with the plea deals you are offered or if you are truly innocent of the charges against you, you have the option to leave your fate to a jury. There are usually six important stages before a verdict is reached in a trial. The final stage is right before the jury is sent for deliberation so they can decide on your innocence or guilt. Before that, the judge explains the legal principles involved with the case and outlines the ground rules for the jury to use during deliberations.
- Sentencing: If the jury finds you guilty or if you plead guilty, you will be sentenced for the crime you committed. However, a number of factors can have an effect on whether you get the maximum or minimum sentence. In many states, it is also required for judges to hear the victims’ statements before sentencing. The impact statements that victims make can have a significant influence on the final sentence.
If you or somebody you know has been arrested and charged with a criminal case, you should immediately seek help from the Stokes Law Firm. Call us at 727-954-0186 today for expert advice.
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