After you are arrested, but before you end up at trial, there are a lot of different paths your case can take.
Here are the steps that your case may go through before getting to trial:
- Filing Charges – A prosecutor decides whether or not to file charges against the defendant. If the defendant is charged with a felony, in some states the prosecutor will have to present his or her case to a grand jury.
- Arraignment/First Appearance – This is when the defendant is formally charged and told about the charges against him. The defendant is usually told about his constitutional rights. This is also where bail is set and a person enters a plea.
- Plea Bargaining – Most criminal cases end at this stage. A plea bargain is when the prosecution and the defense make an agreement that the defendant will plead guilty or no contest in exchange for charges being dropped or reduced and/or recommending a reduced sentence to the judge. At this stage the defense attorney may also try to get the prosecution to drop the case all together, depending on the evidence gathered by that point.
- Motion Practice – Before the case goes to trial, lawyers can make various pretrial motions. Some examples are a motion to suppress evidence, motion for a change of venue, or motion to withdraw a guilty plea. The judge will settle these issues before trial starts.
- Preliminary Hearing – Some states have this proceeding where the judge determines if there is probable cause. If so, then the two sides can go back to negotiating a plea bargain or proceed towards trial.
- Pretrial Conference(s) – The parties will meet to discuss evidence issues before going to trial. Some evidence issues discussed are admissibility, identifying witnesses, and identifying non-disputed facts.
Seeking Legal Help
If you have been arrested, you should seek immediate assistance from an experienced criminal law attorney. Your attorney will help you understand your case and will provide defense for you during the criminal justice process.