Are you interested in learning more about the steps in a criminal case? Criminal law is complex by nature—and each case begins with an arrest.
UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES CAN YOU BE ARRESTED?
As described above, every criminal case begins with an arrest. While this may sound simple, it's important you understand what it means to be arrested. An arrest indicates that a police officer has probable cause to think you committed a crime.
You have likely heard the saying, Innocent until proven guilty. This is rooted in the American justice system, where everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And that brings us to the specific steps involved in a criminal case.
An arraignment is a court appearance where the charges filed against you are read in front of a judge. If you are accused of breaking into a home, for instance, you will be charged with breaking and entering or burglary, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case.
You will also have the opportunity to post bail at your arraignment, and enter a “Guilty,” “Not Guilty,” or “No Contest” plea. The judge will then determine a tentative schedule for your upcoming court dates—the next steps in your criminal case.
2. Preliminary Hearing
At your preliminary hearing, a prosecutor will bring evidence to a judge in order to prove the charges against you are based on probable cause. In the example above, security footage could serve as evidence that you broke into someone's home.
Defendants do have the option of waiving their preliminary hearing. If you decide to proceed with the hearing, and the judge determines there is probable cause that you committed the crime, the case moves forward. If the judge determines probable cause has not been established, the court dismisses the case.
3. Pretrial Motions
Pretrial motions are brought forth by the prosecution and the defense, with the aim of ironing out any issues and deciding what evidence will be admissible in court. You may enter a plea bargain at this time as well, and with the judge's approval, admit guilt to a lesser charge or accept a reduced sentence.
4. Jury Trial
You are probably familiar with this step in a criminal case: a jury trial. At trial, the prosecutor must prove you committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury will then attempt to reach a unanimous verdict.
After the prosecution presents their case, your defense attorney may call witnesses and present evidence on your behalf. Both the prosecution and the defense can cross-examine each other's witnesses and ask follow-up questions as needed. Then, each side can offer their closing arguments—specifically, the prosecutor will argue that you are guilty, and your defense attorney will argue the opposite.
The jurors will subsequently deliberate and reach a decision on your case, based on the evidence and witness testimony presented in court. If the jury fails to reach a verdict, the judge will declare a mistrial. The case will then either be dismissed, or a new jury will be appointed.
The final step in your criminal case—that is, if you don't go through the appeals process—is sentencing. If you are found guilty in a jury trial, the judge will decide on an appropriate punishment based on the crime you committed and your criminal history. Battery, for example, will receive a harsher sentence than trespassing, just as first-time offenders will likely receive a lighter sentence than repeat offenders. The judge will also consider your personal situation and whether you have expressed remorse.
CAN YOU APPEAL YOUR CRIMINAL CASE AFTER SENTENCING?
Yes, if convicted, you have the right to appeal the outcome of their case. Although you cannot introduce new arguments, present new evidence, or call additional witnesses, you can challenge the jury's decision. If you decide to appeal your case, you must file a Notice of Appeal as soon as possible after your judgment—the official document detailing the jury's guilty verdict—has been entered.
For more information on the initial steps when one is arrested in a criminal case an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (855) 451-1260 today.