What Happens Before a Criminal Trial?
Criminal matters are extremely complex. Most people's perceptions of them may be skewed by what they see on TV or in the movies, where it seems that a person is arrested and then their case is immediately taken to court. But a lot happens before trial – and, sometimes, even before an arrest is made.
Let's explore what goes on in a criminal matter before a trial begins.
Investigating the Crime
Law enforcement officials need either a warrant or probable cause to take someone into custody. To receive or establish either, the officer must investigate the alleged offense.
The length of the investigation can vary. Typically, it includes interviewing parties involved in the alleged offense (such as witnesses, victims, and suspects) and gathering evidence.
After the police have concluded their investigation, they file a report with the prosecutor.
Reviewing the Police Report
Upon receiving a report of the alleged offense, the prosecutor will review all information contained within it. They are trying to determine if enough evidence exists to file formal charges against the alleged offender.
In some situations, the prosecutor may decide that there is insufficient evidence to pursue the case. The charges may, therefore, be dropped, meaning the alleged offender will not be prosecuted.
However, if the prosecutor believes probable cause exists, they will move forward with the case. They will decide what charges should be pursued against the alleged offender.
Arresting the Suspect
When the prosecutor decides that there is enough evidence to pursue the case, the court will issue a warrant for the alleged offender's arrest. Law enforcement officials then have the authorization to take the individual into custody.
Note that there are some circumstances in which police officers can make a warrantless arrest. Such can happen when the officer has observed a felony or misdemeanor being committed or they have probable cause to believe a crime happened. If they arrested someone before obtaining a warrant, they must later submit a request to the prosecutor for a warrant.
Upon their arrest, the alleged offender will be booked. This part of the process involves the police getting the suspect's personal identifying information and taking their mug shot and fingerprints. The individual will then be placed in jail until their first court appearance.
Attending an Arraignment
The arraignment is the first time the alleged offender (referred to as a defendant) appears in court. During this proceeding, a judge will read the defendant their rights, inform them of the charges being brought against them, and explain the possible conviction penalties.
For misdemeanor cases, the defendant will be asked to enter a plea: guilty or not guilty. Upon a guilty plea, the judge will either issue a sentence or schedule a sentencing hearing, where penalties will be determined. A not guilty plea will result in the case being set for a pre-trial conference.
In felony cases, the defendant does not enter a plea during the arraignment. Instead, they will be informed of their right to a preliminary hearing.
Bail may be set at the arraignment. Bail is the amount of money the defendant may pay to get released from police custody while awaiting trial.
The amount of bail depends on the case, and the judge considers various factors, such as the severity of the crime, to determine how much bail should be. In some cases, a person may be released on their own recognizance (meaning they will not have to pay bail); in others, they may be held without bail.
Attending a Pre-Trial Conference (Misdemeanors)
For misdemeanors, the defendant will attend a pre-trial conference. This proceeding is where the defendant and their criminal defense attorney attempt to resolve the case out of court through a plea bargain.
Attending a Preliminary Examination (Felonies)
In felony cases, the defendant may go through a preliminary hearing. The judge will determine whether probable cause exists to believe that the defendant committed the alleged crime.
The burden of proof rests on the prosecutor, and it is much lower than that required during the criminal trial.
If the judge does not believe probable cause exists, they may reduce or dismiss the charges. Otherwise, the case will be set for trial.
From the beginning of your criminal case until its conclusion, our Norman, OK attorneys will be on your side, providing the counsel you need. Retain the services of the Law Offices of Keith J. Nedwick, P.C. by calling (866) 590-8173 or submitting an online contact form today.