The criminal process can be very confusing! It is very important that you understand your rights and be informed of how the court system works. At Outlaw Legal Services our criminal defense attorneys will be there for you to help you make informed decisions throughout this process.
Crime Reporting and Investigation
The criminal process begins when a crime is committed and reported to a law enforcement agency. The law enforcement agency will then investigate the reported crime, create a police report with all of the evidence and facts they have gathered and then they will present it to the District Attorney’s Office. The District Attorney’s Office will review the case, determine what laws were broken, if any, and whether or not there is enough evidence to press charges against the accused. If they have sufficient evidence, they will then file the case with the courts.
An initial appearance or arraignment is the defendant’s first appearance in court. During this hearing, the judge will formally inform the defendant of his/her rights, the charge or charges against him/her and the judge will ask the defendant to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. A guilty plea is the defendant’s admission to the court that he/she committed the crime. If the defendant pleads guilty, he/she will most likely be sentenced immediately. A not guilty plea is the defendant’s denial of committing the crime, in which case another court hearing will be scheduled. A no contest plea is where the defendant neither confirms nor denies committing the crime. This plea is preferable to a guilty plea and the defendant will generally be sentenced immediately.
If the defendant is incarcerated, the arraignment usually occurs within 72 hours of the arrest. The court will set bail, refuse bail or release the defendant on his/her own personal recognizance, which means that the court takes the defendant’s word that he/she will appear to their next court hearing.
Additionally, if the defendant cannot afford to hire a criminal defense attorney, the court will determine whether or not he/she qualifies for a court appointed attorney or public defender.
Pretrial Conference/Resolution Hearing
A hearing that provides the prosecutor and criminal defense attorney the opportunity to discuss the possibility of settling a case before trial is known as a pretrial conference or resolution hearing. This promotes a fair and expeditious trial. If the defendant agrees to a plea, the case will move to sentencing. If there is not an agreeable resolution, the case will move to a preliminary hearing.
A preliminary hearing is like a mini trial, or “trial before the trial.” This is where the judge decides whether or not there is enough evidence to charge the defendant. The prosecutor will present all of their evidence and witnesses will testify. The defendant’s criminal attorney has a chance to present the case. However, in some cases the attorney might use this time to cross-examine witnesses testifying against the defendant and see if the prosecutor has inconsistencies in their case against you. If the judge finds the there is insufficient evidence, the charges can be dismissed and if there is sufficient evidence the case will be bound over to a trial judge.
A trial is set when a disposition or plea agreement cannot be reached. The defendant’s criminal attorney and the prosecutor will make their opening statements, introduce their witnesses, present evidence, cross-examine witnesses and give their closing arguments. The defendant has the right to a jury trial, which is a trial held before a jury, or a bench trial which a trial held without a jury and solely before a judge. The jury and/or judge will reach their decision on whether or not the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. If a decision cannot be made, it is considered a mistrial. If the defendant is found guilty, the case will move to sentencing.
Sentencing occurs after a defendant pleads guilty, no contest or is found guilty after trial. The judge decides what type of penalty is suitable for the defendant based on the type of crime committed and the criminal history of the defendant. The penalty can consist of fines, jail or prison time, community service, probation and court ordered treatment and/or counseling.
Order to Show Cause
If a defendant fails to comply with the court orders then the court is notified. The court will schedule a hearing in which the defendant must appear to explain why they have not complied or to show proof that they have.
OPTIONS AFTER A CONVICTION
An appeal is a request for an examination of the trial to ensure that it was conducted in a fair manner. Whether or not you have merit to file an appeal depends on the facts of your case. If the criminal defense attorney can prove that the defendant was denied due process of the law or that legal errors occurred during trial, then the defendant’s conviction could be overturned.
Motion to Withdraw a Guilty Plea or Motion for a New Trial
Both of these motions are attempts to set a defendant’s conviction aside and are addressed on a case-by-case situation.
An expungement is the removal of a charge from one’s record. A defendant may apply to have their charge or charges expunged if he/she has successfully complied with all court orders and probation.
* For purposes of understanding, not intended as legal advice.