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What To Expect When You're Defending (A Criminal Case)

  • Crime Occurs
    • In this step, police are notified and an investigation commences
  • Suspect Arrested
    • Following the investigation, a suspect is arrested if there is probably cause
  • DA Review
    • The prosecuting attorney will determine whether a person should be charged
  • Charges Issued
    • If case is charged, the prosecutor issues a criminal complaint charging the suspect with committing the crime. Depending on the severity of the crime, if it is a misdemeanor or a felony, you may be able to bond out at this step
      • If a person is being accused of a misdemeanor, they can post bail and be released from jail
  • Initial Appearance
    • This is the first court hearing after someone has been charged with a crime.
    • This is where the judge informs the defendant what the charges are, what the maximum penalty is for the crime if convicted, and their rights to an attorney.
    • If defendant was still in jail, then the bail and other conditions are set.
  • Entering a Plea
    • This stage occurs mostly for misdemeanor cases. There are usually three types of pleas: guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
      • Guilty
        • By giving a guilty plea, a defendant admits to the commission of the crime and accepts the punishment. When entering a guilty plea, it is important to note that there will be no more criminal trial proceedings and that you will immediately be punished.
      • Not Guilty
        • By giving a not guilty plea, a defendant does not admit to the commission of the crime, and the criminal trial proceedings will proceed to the next step.
      • No contest
        • By pleading no contest, in essence, a defendant is saying that they neither admit nor dispute the charge. Though the defendant has not admitted to being guilty, he will still be punished and treated as though he has pleaded guilty.
        • By pleading no contest, if a defendant is sued by a victim of the crime, there will be no admission of guilt on his part, and his sentence cannot be used against him.
  • Status Conference
    • This is a court hearing to determine how the case is coming along in terms of progress and direction
  • Preliminary Hearing
    • This is a hearing where the judge looks at the evidence that the prosecutor and investigators have gathered, to determine whether there is enough evidence to believe that the defendant committed the crime.
      • If there is not sufficient evidence, the defendant is released and the case is dismissed
  • Arraignment
    • Criminal defendants first appearance on the formal charges in front of a judge. Here is where defendants charged with felonies have the opportunity to enter their first plea, but the point of this point is to inform the defendant of all the charges against him.
  • Pretrial Conference
    • Before the trial begins, a hearing is held to resolve any issues that may crop up before the court. Some courts accept pleas of guilty or no contest at this point.
  • Plea Hearing
    • This is a hearing specifically for the defendant to respond to the criminal charge. Here, a defendant can accept a plea bargain if it is offered by the prosecutor.
      • A plea bargain is a compromise worked out between the prosecutor and the defendant's attorneys, where a charge is typically lessened to a less severe crime in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty. This is done to prevent having to go to trial.
      • IT IS NOT MANDATORY TO ACCEPT THE PLEA DEAL, but the majority of cases in the criminal justice system end in a plea deal.
  • Trial
    • A hearing at which evidence is presented to a judge and jury to determine whether the defendant is guilty.
      • In the United States, the standard of proof for criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt, or at or around 99% certainty. This is a high threshold to meet compared to civil trials, which are set at a preponderance of the evidence or 51%.
      • If a defendant chooses not to waive his right to a jury trial, the jury will deliberate after the trail proceedings and find him either guilty or not guilty to every charge
      • A defendant can be found guilty for all, some, or none of the charges,
  • Sentencing
    • This is a court's decision on the penalties that are appropriate for the crimes established by the convictions, being found guilty.
  • Appeal
    • A defendant can appeal their case after sentencing if they receive an unfavorable sentence based on errors that occurred during the trial.

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