Getting charged with a crime or even assigned a speeding ticket can be an unnerving experience. There are so many moving parts to the court system that it’s difficult to know where to begin when approaching the task of clearing your name.
If you’re within the 54% of cases that fall under non-moving violations, your case can be easily closed. However, if you are charged with something like a DUI or worse, the steps that lead up to a sentencing can be confusing and often belittling.
Luckily, when broken down and explained simply, understanding court protocols can help you feel a little more in control.
Being arrested for a crime is not the same as being charged with a crime. It simply means that the police have found probable cause for the arrest.
After the police file a report, it is sent to the prosecutor, who decides whether or not to press charges. Since it is common for prosecutors to later seek out political positions, many of them base their decision of whether or not to press said charges on the local public’s opinion of the case.
A prosecutor is required to make a decision within the first three days. If they take any longer than that to make a decision, the suspect goes free. If the prosecutor cannot make the decision themselves, they will take it before a grand jury.
This preliminary hearing happens in private, with only the prosecutor and select judges, and is called an indictment. During this procedure, the prosecutor can present evidence and witness testimonies in order to incriminate the suspect.
An arraignment is what happens after an indictment.
Once the prosecutor officially presses charges, an arraignment is then scheduled, where the charges are formally read to the defendant. During the procedure, the defendant has the freedom to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
Pleading no contest is not a direct admission of guilt, but it is treated as a guilty plea.
At this point, the judge will assign a dollar amount known as bail. If the defendant can afford to pay it, they are released from jail on the promise that he will be present for all further hearings.
If the crime is minor, or the defendant doesn’t have an extensive criminal history, the judge will often set the bail at a lower amount. However, with more severe crimes such as murder or sexual assault, bails can be set extremely high or even foregone altogether.
Pre-trials give both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer an opportunity to find a way to resolve the case before taking it to trial. They often decide whether or not to settle the case with a plea bargain. A plea bargain means that the initial charges become less severe, sometimes in exchange for information or agreements to partake in counseling or community service.
If the defendant chooses not to relent or take a plea bargain, the case is then taken to trial.
Right before a trial, the defense lawyer and prosecutor have the freedom to file certain motions to handle issues that they believe will affect the outcome of the case.
For instance, a Motion to Suppress will remove any evidence that the prosecution acquired without a warrant or through unlawful interrogation.
A Motion to Squash is only used in felony cases and will challenge the claims of probable cause that lead to the initial arrest.
A Motion to Dismiss is filed in order to have the charges dropped and the case dismissed altogether. This motion is usually used when the defense thinks they have enough evidence to prove the defendant innocent without going to trial.
The Motion to Change of Venue is only filed if the case is being conducted in the wrong county, or when the defense claims that the trial’s negative press with prevent the defendant from receiving a fair verdict.
The prosecutor can also file this motion as a counter if they believe the local jury to favor the defendant in any way.
There are two types of trials: a bench trial, or a jury trial.
A bench trial is always held in private with only a judge to pass the verdict. A jury trial is, obviously, decided by a panel of jurors. Jury trials are common for more severe charges.
During this time, both the defense lawyer and the prosecutor are bound by law to report any evidence they find that might hinder their own objective. The defendant cannot withhold incriminating evidence, and the prosecutor cannot withhold evidence that may provide an alibi or defense.
Once all of the evidence is presented, the jury will deliberate in private and then present their verdict. If the defendant is found not-guilty, they are absolved of all charges and free to go. However, if the jury finds them guilty, the judge will then pass their sentence.
This is the most highly-anticipated moment of any court case. For more heinous crimes, the sentencing can result in jail or prison. However, most minor offenses will result in some form of probation or parole.
If the defendant has any sort of past criminal record, the judge may choose probation that is more monitored, where the criminal must check in every month.
However, in less severe cases, especially with younger defendants, the final sentence is merely community service and/or mandatory counseling.
Charged With a Crime
If you’re charged with a crime, chances are you’re scared and have a lot of questions. Whether you committed the crime of not, don’t let that fear stop you from getting the answers you deserve.
Either way, you’ll need a lawyer who knows how to handle themselves and find a prosecutor’s weaknesses. On top of miles and miles of legal jargon that the average person doesn’t understand, there are also many unwritten rules and loopholes that only a lawyer worth their salt will be able to find.
Contact the Fanney Law Office 24/7 for the highest standards in representation and legal counsel.
Being charged with a crime can seem overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean it has to ruin your life.