The criminal process
usually starts with law enforcement making a stop or an arrest. The criminal process can terminate at any point depending on the facts of the case. You have certain rights at every phase of the criminal process. The following is a brief explanation of each stage from the time of the stop through sentencing period.
1. The Arrest: The police arrest someone based when they have probable cause that the person committed a criminal offense. The police do not charge the arrestee; only gathers the report and evidence surrounding the incident to the prosecuting attorney. The prosecuting attorney will then decide to file charges or dismiss the accusations.
2. Filing of the Complaint: After the prosecuting attorney receives all the evidence and police reports surrounding the arrest, the prosecuting attorney decides to file the charges or dismiss the evidence based on lack of evidence or occurrence of a crime. The prosecuting attorney files the document with the court, which asserts the charges against you.
3. Arraignment/First Appearance: At the arraignment, you are formally informed of the charges and your constitutional rights that you may exercise. Bail is regularly set during the arraignment. Bail is used by the court similar to an "insurance policy" that you will appear on future court dates. The judge decides the amount of the bail depending the two factors: 1) If you have the risk of fleeing the country, the court will not give you bail and you may remain in custody. 2) If you pose a risk of danger to the community if released.
4. Preliminary Hearing: Preliminary Hearings are held in all felony offenses to review probable cause. The preliminary hearing is used for the judge to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the charges against you. At the time the Judge determines that there is probable cause, he forwards the case to the Superior Court for trial. At the Preliminary Hearing, the district attorney or the judge can add additional charges if the evidence allows it.
5. Arraignment in the Superior Court: If there is probable cause to support the charges against you, the prosecutor will file a charging document called Information in the Superior Court. The Information asserts the charges which you going against at trial. At this time, you are formally informed of the charges and you constitutional rights.
6. Pre-trial Conference: At the pre-trial conference, the defense attorney debates the case with the prosecuting attorney in which would usually involve the judge in the conference. At this stage the defense attorney can work out a plea deal in your favor or a plea bargain reducing the charges on certain conditions. At the conference the defense attorney can also provide more evidence and information in your favor to prove your innocence.
7. Trial: If no plea deal or plea bargain is worked out between the two parties, the case will go to trial. During the jury trial you are allowed to have a jury of 12 neutral jurors. Both the defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney have a chance to make opening statements, introduce witnesses and evidence, cross-examine witnesses and make closing arguments. During the discussion period of the case, the jury resolves whether the prosecution has met the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds you not guilty, all charges against you are dropped and you are free to go.
8. Sentencing: If the ruling is not in your favor and you are found guilty, a sentencing hearing is giving whether the judge decides the appropriate punishment for the conviction. This could vary from things like probation or to state prison depending on the seriousness of the crime
9. Collateral Consequences: In addition to any sentence imposed by the court, conviction can have a number of additional penalties. In felony cases, these penalties could you losing the right to vote, right to possess a firearm, loss of right to associate with other criminals, register as a sex offender, and give you harsher penalties for future convictions if occurred.
10. Appeals & Writs: After a conviction, you have the right to file an appeal to the appellate court with the argument that the trial court made legal mistakes in which resulted in an unfavorable decision. If the defense can prove that the trial court made legal mistakes, or you were denied due process of law or a fair trial, and the appellate court may reverse the lower court’s decision.
11. Expungement: After a certain period of time, you may be able to file for an expungement in which the conviction that you received may be removed and sealed from your records. The expungement usually can be granted after successful completion of all probationary period.
Contacting an Attorney for Help during the Criminal Process
If you are involved in a crime, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. You attorney will help you understand your rights and will represent your best interests throughout the criminal process.