Criminal Law - Steps in a Case
- Arrest: A person is arrested by a law enforcement officer who either observes a crime, or has a warrant for arrest issued by a judge when probable cause exists that a person committed a crime. When a person is arrested, that person must be brought before a judge for an initial appearance within 24 hours of being arrested or must be released.
- Initial Appearance: At the initial appearance, the judge determines the defendant’s name and address, informs the defendant of the charges and of the right to remain silent and to have an attorney. The judge appoints an attorney if the defendant cannot afford one for a felony but not for most misdemeanors unless a bond is set and the person cannot post it. The judge must determine whether probable cause exists for the purpose of release from custody. The judge also sets release conditions pending the trial.
- Preliminary Hearing: A preliminary hearing may be held in cases where the defendant is charged with committing a crime that is classified as a felony, unless the defendant has been indicted by the grand jury. If a preliminary hearing is held, the judge hears evidence and testimony from witnesses called by the prosecuting attorney and the defendant’s attorney. If the judge determines there is probable cause to believe the person committed the crime, the defendant is held for trial in superior court, and an arraignment date is set.
- Grand Jury: Probable cause may also be determined by a Grand Jury made up of citizens summoned by the court. They serve for several months, and consider evidence presented by the prosecutor. The subject of the investigation and the subject’s attorney are usually not permitted to be present. An indictment is not returned without at least nine members of the grand jury concurring.
- Arraignment: At the arraignment, the defendant enters a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. If the defendant enters a not guilty plea, the judge will set a pretrial conference or trial date. If the defendant enters a guilty plea or pleads no contest to the charges, the judge will set a date to sentence the defendant for the crime.
- Trial: The defendant has the right to a trial either before a judge, or before a jury for all felonies and some misdemeanors.