Investigation/Grand Jury – The first thing to happen is usually a call to the police which leads to an investigation by responding officers, or in some cases, a grand jury investigation.
Arrest/Citation/Indictment – Once the investigators think they have enough evidence to file criminal charges, you will be arrested and taken into custody, or will be provided with a citation or letter to appear in court on a specific date. The police may arrest you for what they think the charges support, but the prosecuting agencies (City Attorney or District Attorney) make the ultimate decision of what you could be facing in court.
Arraignment – Your first appearance in court involves you entering a plea, either “not guilty”, “guilty”, or “no contest” to the charges you are formally facing. Bail will often be a discussion at this initial appearance, as will other motions described below in “Defense Rights”.
Pretrial/Preliminary Hearing – In misdemeanor cases, pretrial hearings are then set. These are dates to come back to court for various issues, described below in “Defense Rights”, and for possible settlement. After the pretrial hearings, if the case is not settled or dismissed, the next court proceeding would be a trial. There are no preliminary hearings for misdemeanor charges. In felony cases, a preliminary hearing will be set. This is a hearing where the Judge listens to basic evidence of the case from the prosecution, and determines whether or not the case should still be in the court system. This is usually the first opportunity for the defense to cross examine the prosecution witnesses, which is why it should be handled by skilled attorneys who understand the entire process. This hearing can have a major effect on the case weeks or even months later.
Felony Arraignment – In felony cases, if the Judge decides there is enough evidence to keep the case in the system, you will be arraigned in the trial court approximately two weeks after the preliminary hearing. This is another appearance whereby you will enter a “not guilty”, “guilty”, or “no contest” plea.
Pretrial – These are additional dates to return to court to discuss various issues, such as those described below in “Defense Rights”, and for possible settlement.
Trial – In misdemeanor cases, you have a right to go to trial within 30 or 45 days of your initial arraignment, depending on if you were in custody at your initial arraignment. This can be a jury trial or a court trial if both sides agree to waive their right to a jury trial. In felony cases, you have a right to go to trial within 60 days of your second arraignment, again being either a jury or court trial.
Probation and Sentencing – After a settlement or a guilty verdict, the defendant is sentenced. Misdemeanors carry up to one year in jail, while felonies carry the potential for custody greater than one year. However, a court can also sentence the defendant to probation, which is less than the prescribed jail time maximums or guidelines.
Appeals/Expungements – A defendant always has the right to appeal a case or ruling, and in some instances, to request that the court “expunge” or remove the conviction from the person’s record (see “Expungements” page).
Bail – You have an absolute right to bail. All criminal charges have a corresponding dollar figure which, if posted with a bail bondsman or to the court (usually 10% of the scheduled amount), allows you to be free during the proceedings. Many times, however, a skilled attorney can get you released “O.R”, on your own recognizance, despite the scheduled bail amount.
Discovery – You have an absolute right to discovery. Discovery includes the police reports, backgrounds of witnesses, police recordings and 911 tapes, prior complaints against witnesses or the police, photographs, videos…anything that points to your guilt or innocence should be obtained by your attorney to build your defense.
Some CommonMotions – Knowledgeable, competent criminal defense attorneys are familiar with, and use, the following motions to get charges reduced or dismissed: Motion to Dismiss the Charges, Motion to Compel Discovery, Motion for Release of Confidential Informant Information, Motion to Suppress Evidence, Motion to Preserve Evidence for Defense Testing, Motion to Return Property, Motion to Exclude Evidence, Motion for Reconsideration of Previous Orders, Motion to Modify Court Order, Writs, Expungements, etc.
Constitutional Rights – Never give up your constitutional rights unless your attorney properly advises you to do so. You have the following rights: the right to a jury or court trial, the right to confront and cross examine witnesses, the right to present a defense and use the subpoena power of the court, the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself, and of course, the right to have an attorney.
This is just a cursory glance at the criminal court process and some of your rights. You need competent, experienced attorneys to use these tools properly to defend your rights and protect your freedom.
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