Overview of the Criminal Process

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What Does the Criminal Justice Process Involve?

Criminal cases are best thought of as being divided into stages.  These stages involve various procedures that help to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. 

According to criminal procedure laws, criminal defendant can often have different rights depending on the stage of the criminal process.  For example, a criminal defendant generally does not have the right to have a lawyer present during pre-trial photograph identification.  On the other hand, the defendant will always be entitled to a lawyer during formal cross-examination hearings.

What are the Different Stages in the Criminal Process?

The overview of the criminal process involves the following stages:

To make things easier, all of the above stages may be categorized under three broader categories:  pre-trial, trial, and post-trial.  Also, the stages listed above are in chronological order, though there may be some overlap between different stages. 

Is the Criminal Process the Same in Every State?

No- each state or jurisdiction may have a different outline of the criminal process which they follow.  In general however, each state will follow the overview above to some degree, though they may use different names for each stage. 

Some cases do not necessarily involve every stage.  For example, most criminal trials do not involve an appeal or a retrial.  Also, in some cases plea bargaining is not necessary if the suspect does not wish to engage negotiations.

Do I Need a Criminal Lawyer?

If you are facing criminal charges, you have the right to an attorney.  Your lawyer can represent you throughout the various phases of the criminal justice process.  They can also help you obtain a reduced sentence or dropped charges, depending on your individual case.  Criminal laws vary widely from state to state; however, an experienced attorney in your area will be able to provide advice on the criminal laws of your specific area. 

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Last Modified: 09-08-2015 12:25 PM PDT

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