There are no two criminal defense cases that will be exactly the same due to all the evidence and circumstances involved. However, most criminal cases will develop along the same line of progression. Gaining an understanding of these stages can potentially give you an advantage in a criminal defense case of your own, as you will at least know what to expect next and how to react.
An average criminal case will progress in these steps:
- The arrest: It is highly unusual for a criminal case to not begin with an arrest, but why that arrest occurs can vary. In some cases, a police officer witnesses the suspect in the middle of a criminal act, such as pickpocketing someone in public. An arrest may occur if the officer has good reason to suspect the person is committing a crime or has just committed one, such as when a highway patrol officer pulls someone over, smells alcohol on the driver’s breath, and arrests them for suspicion of driving under the influence. Lastly, the police may receive a warrant from a court to locate someone and arrest them.
- Station business: After someone is arrested and brought to the police station, a few things will happen, most notably booking and posting bail. When a suspect is booked, he or she is registered into the station’s systems after gathering basic information, like name and address. Bail is either created immediately after booking, usually if the crime is not severe, or after a bail hearing. A suspect can pay the bail amount to be released from custody and will be repaid that amount if he or she attends all scheduled court hearings until the case closes. A suspect can also be “released on his or her own recognizance,” which essentially means the court trusts the suspect enough to release him or her without needing to pay any bail.
- Arraignments and pleas: The first court hearing, whether a suspect left custody or remained in the jail house, will be the arraignment. At this hearing, the judge will list all the charges filed against the suspect, who will then need to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A person entering arraignment can and should be represented by a criminal defense lawyer. Entering the wrong plea can be devastating. If you have an arraignment coming up soon and have not retained a criminal defense attorney yet, you should take action immediately to do so.
- Preliminary hearings: If the case is being taken to court, then a preliminary hearing must be used to determine if the prosecution has enough evidence to validate the trial. This is once again a crucial moment to back your case with a defense attorney, who can argue then and there that the prosecution is grasping for straws in its case against you. Depending on the arguments heard, the judge could choose to dismiss the case and drop the charges.
- Pretrial motions and evidence submittal: A case not dropped at the preliminary hearing will move to pretrial motions, which mainly focus on submitting evidence and testimonies to use at the trial. A criminal defense attorney can also use this stage of the criminal case process as a chance to swat down evidence by convincing the judge it should be inadmissible.
- The trial: This stage is what you see on television and in the movies most often. The prosecution brings forth evidence and the defense challenges it, and vice versa. After both sides of the court rest, the judge or jury will need to come to a verdict decision.
- Sentencing for the convicted: When a trial concludes with a guilty verdict, the court has to decide how to penalize the convicted offender. Sentencing is always negotiable and up to the court’s discretion. Even in this stage, after a trial has been lost, a skilled criminal defense attorney can turn favor towards the defendant – now the convicted.
- Filing an appeal: Lastly, those who have been convicted of a crime can file for an appeal if there is reason to believe a technical error damaged the validity of the case. For example, evidence that should not have been admissible was allowed to be weighed by the jury. Appeals cannot be filed simply because the defendant “didn’t like the outcome” and they cannot be filed by the prosecution for any reason. A higher court reviews the appeal to either uphold the decision, reverse a conviction, or demand a retrial, where the process starts again at stage 3 or 4.
Are you or someone you know facing criminal charges in Massachusetts? Brad Bailey Law and our team of Boston criminal defense attorneys take on the toughest cases, including federal crimes, violent crimes, and cases to go before a grand jury, and have built a reputation for success. You should contact us today, no matter what stage of the criminal process you are in, to schedule a free case analysis.