Criminal Defense – An Overview
Our criminal justice system is complex, both conceptually and procedurally. To ensure the fairness of the proceedings, each federal, state, tribal, and local court system has its own rules of criminal procedure that govern the actions of everyone involved, including police, defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and juries.
The U.S. Constitution requires that criminal defendants be accorded due process of law in all proceedings against them. Broadly, this means that throughout the criminal justice process, the rules of criminal procedure must be observed with all constitutional protections in place. Due process requires such things as reasonable notice of proceedings and fair hearings when a person is facing substantial negative consequences like incarceration.
The stages of a criminal case
Investigation: During the investigation stage, police review the facts, interview witnesses and gather evidence. If the police uncover enough evidence that points to a particular suspect, they can ask a judge to sign an arrest warrant for that person.
Arrest and bail: After being arrested, a defendant will go before the judge, who will either set bail (an amount of money that the person must post so that he or she can get out of jail) or order that the person should remain incarcerated until trial. The amount of bail depends on a number of factors, including: the severity of the crime for which the suspect is accused, the strength of the prosecution#39;s case, whether the person has a criminal history, and whether the accused is a flight risk. If the defendant shows up for future court dates, the bail money is returned. If, however, he or she doesn’t show up or flees the jurisdiction, the court will keep the money and issue an arrest warrant.
Arraignment: The accused first appears before the judge at a special court proceeding called an arraignment. At the arraignment, the judge informs the accused of the criminal charges against him or her, asks the accused whether he or she has an attorney or wants a court-appointed lawyer, asks how the accused plans to plead to the charges, determines whether to modify any preexisting bail, and sets a schedule for future court dates.
Preliminary hearing for felony cases: In felony cases, a judge or magistrate will hold a preliminary hearing during which the prosecution must show that there is enough evidence supporting the charges against the defendant so that the case can proceed to the next stage. This hearing is an adversarial proceeding and the defendant#39;s attorney has the right to challenge the admissibility of prosecution evidence and cross-examine the prosecution#39;s witnesses. It is also sometimes called a “preliminary examination” or a “probable-cause hearing.”
Plea bargaining: Sometimes the prosecution and the defendant (working with his or her attorney) can negotiate an agreement that resolves the matter without proceeding to trial. Usually, the prosecutor agrees to reduce a charge, drop one or more of multiple charges, or recommend a more lenient sentence in exchange for the defendant#39;s guilty plea.
Trial and sentencing: At trial, the prosecutor and defense attorney will give opening and closing statements, introduce evidence and question witnesses. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge or jury will impose a sentence that may include incarceration, fines, court costs, restitution or probation. For minor crimes, the sentence is usually issued right away. In felony cases, the prosecution and defense will typically submit evidence and make arguments about what the appropriate sentence should be.
In some states, a judge will decide the sentence. In other states, sentencing is completely separate from the trial, with a different jury determining the sentence. During this separate sentencing phase, the prosecution will present aggravating factors to argue for a harsher sentence and the defense will present mitigating factors in favor of a lesser one. Also, before the sentence is issued, the defendant usually has the right to “allocution,” which allows the defendant to address the judge directly. Allocution may be a chance for the defendant to apologize, show remorse or explain his or her actions. A sincere apology and show of remorse could go a long way towards a lighter sentence.
Contact a criminal defense lawyer
To better protect yourself throughout your involvement with the criminal-justice system, consult with an informed, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney at Law Offices of Barry A. Resnick, PLLC in Farmington Hills, MI. Your lawyer will fight to ensure that you get the full benefit of the constitutional and legal protections afforded criminal defendants.
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.