Everyone has rights when it comes to the process in which someone is either to be found guilty or not guilty. The process of either defending innocence or proving guilt can be a long and daunting one and takes place in a jurisdiction's Superior Court. If not properly prepared for a case, the outcome can have severe consequences on your life as well as your loved ones. Bail bonds provide a defendant with the opportunity to gather one's resources that may eventually aid them in their attempts to tell their side of the matter at hand. There are many factors that have an effect on case results. Being in custody has many adverse phycological effects and other disadvantages that may ultimately lead to being the main cause for losing a trial due to the fact you are unable to obtain evidence, gather witnesses, hire an attorney, dress nice, not "appear" as a criminal because of being shackled in a jumpsuit, and more.
Stages of a Criminal Case
Arrest & Booking
Arraignment & Bail
Pretrial & Plea Bargaining
Before you can be arrested and charged with a crime, law enforcement officers must have “probable cause” to arrest you. Investigators from the police department or another state or local law enforcement agency may employ various procedures - such as a search warrant, interrogation, seizure of property, etc. - to justify a criminal charge. This is the first step in the criminal justice process.
Once law enforcement feel they have probable cause, they will arrest you. Upon being arrested, you will be booked at a local police station or jail. During this process, officers will take your fingerprints and photograph as well as record the charges filed against you. You may also be searched and questioned.
Remember, you are under no legal obligation to talk to investigators and are strongly encouraged not to speak with police until your attorney is present. Your constitutional Miranda Rights mean “you have the right to remain silent.”
After being booked, a bail amount will be set according to the county's Bail Schedule. It provides an arrestee with the ability to post bail before their bail hearing or arraignment. Bail schedules have a set bail amount for each charge in violation of the law.
The arraignment is your first appearance in court and when formal charges are filed against you. During this brief hearing, which must occur within a reasonable time after an arrest, you will appear before a judge. The judge will confirm that you are the person being charged with the crime, that you know what crime you are being charged with, and what you plead to the charge - guilty, not guilty, or no contest. You will also be asked if you intend to hire a private attorney or if you need a public defender appointed to you.
The arraignment is also when bail and your next court appearance is set by the judge. Bail allows you the freedom to go home during the trial proceedings. The judge may also choose to release you on your own recognizance ( O.R.). Keep in mind, the judge holds the power to raise and lower bail amounts issued in the bail schedule. So, if released on bail during the arrest stage, the judge can raise or lower the bail amount at your arraignment, and you lose the option of being OR'd and let out for free.
The next step in the criminal defense process is the beginning of pre-trial conferences and hearings, or a Grand Jury proceeding in the case of federal crimes. During these meetings between the prosecution and defense, both parties discuss strengths and weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, pretrial motions as well as indirect factors that pertain to the defendant’s case such as their character, history and reasoning behind committing the crime (if they are guilty).
During the pretrial process is also when the defense lawyer may work out a deal with the prosecutor and police to prevent a trial by getting them to drop the case or having their client plead guilty to a less serious charge. A majority of federal and state criminal cases (90-95 percent) end during the pretrial process due to plea bargaining.
If the defendant pleads “not guilty” and a plea agreement cannot be reached, the case moves onto the trial phase of the criminal defense process. During the trial, a judge or jury reviews the case to determine whether they think the defendant is guilty or innocent. The trial phase can last anywhere from months to years depending on the complexity of the criminal case.
Trial proceedings typically take place in the following order:
1. Jury Selection. If a jury is presiding over the trial, twelve jurors must be chosen. Both the defense and the prosecution can challenge potential jurors if an individual has preexisting knowledge of the case, if they have a relationship with either party or if they are incapable of hearing and understanding the testimony. Either side also has a certain number of “peremptory challenges,” meaning they can remove a juror without providing a reason.
2. The Prosecution’s Case. Once a jury has been selected, the trial proceeds with the prosecution up first. The prosecutor gives their opening statements, then presents evidence against the defendant in the form of witness testimony, letters, photos, security videos, the weapon used, etc.
3. The Defense’s Case. After the prosecution has made their case, it is the defendant’s turn. At this time, the defense lawyer attempts to find holes or weaknesses in the prosecution’s argument by cross-examining witnesses, subpoenaing their own witnesses, providing an alibi, and entering any other evidence that proves his or her client’s innocence.
4. Closing Arguments. Lastly, after both sides have laid out their case, it is time for the final statements. The prosecution sums up their argument first, followed by the defense. Throughout a trial, all attorneys must follow the rules of evidence as specified by state law.
After these trial proceedings occur, it is time for the judge or jury to deliberate.