Facing criminal charges can be a scary and overwhelming experience. You may have many questions and worries about your rights, your options, and your future.
You may wonder how to defend yourself and what will happen to you.
If you are in this situation, you need to know how the criminal defense process works and what you can do to fight your charges.
In this blog post, we will explain the steps of the criminal defense process and the best strategies to achieve a favorable outcome for your case.
1. Arrest and Booking
This is the first step of the criminal defense process. An arrest occurs when a law enforcement officer restricts your freedom of movement based on probable cause that you committed a crime.
An arrest can happen in different ways. For example, an officer may observe you committing a crime, such as driving under the influence, and pull you over.
An officer may have a warrant for your arrest based on evidence gathered during an investigation or a complaint from a victim or witness.
After an arrest, you will be taken to a police station or jail for booking. Booking is the process of recording your personal information (your name, address, date of birth, and fingerprints).
You may also be photographed and searched for weapons or contraband.
Depending on the severity of your charges and your criminal history, you may be released on bail or held in custody until your arraignment, which usually happens after an indictment by a grand jury or a preliminary hearing by a judge.
2. Arraignment and Bail
The next step of the criminal defense process is the arraignment. It is a court hearing where you are formally charged with a crime and asked to enter a plea.
Arraignment usually takes place within 48 to 72 hours after your arrest.
At the arraignment, you will be informed of your constitutional rights, such as the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to a jury trial.
You will also be given a copy of the complaint or indictment that outlines the charges against you and the potential penalties.
The most important part of the arraignment is entering your plea. You have three options:
- guilty (you admit the crime)
- not guilty (you deny the crime)
- no contest (you don’t admit or deny but accept the consequences as if you were guilty)
Your plea will determine how your case proceeds. If you plead guilty or have no contest, you will be sentenced by the judge or negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor.
You will proceed to pretrial motions and discovery if you plead not guilty.
Another important part of the arraignment is bail. Bail is money or property you must pay or pledge to secure your release from custody while your case is pending.
The judge will decide whether to grant bail and how much it should be based on several factors, such as:
- The seriousness and nature of your charges
- Criminal record and history of appearing in court
- Your ties to the community and risk of flight
- Your financial situation and ability to pay
- The danger you pose to yourself or others
3. Pretrial Motions and Discovery
Pretrial motions are requests made by either party (the prosecution or the defense) to the judge before trial. Pretrial motions can address various issues, such as:
- Challenging the legality of your arrest or search
- Suppressing evidence obtained illegally or improperly
- Dismissing charges for lack of probable cause or evidence
- Changing the venue or location of your trial
- Requesting a speedy trial or continuance (delay) of your trial
- Severing (separating) or joining (combining) charges or defendants
Pretrial motions can have a significant impact on the outcome of your case. For example, if the judge grants a motion to suppress evidence, the prosecution may have to drop or reduce your charges.
If the judge denies a motion to dismiss charges, you may have to go to trial or accept a plea bargain.
Before a trial, the involved parties exchange information and evidence through discovery. These can include:
- Police reports and witness statements
- Physical and biological evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA, and weapons
- Expert opinions and test results
- Surveillance videos and audio recordings
- Documents and records, such as bank statements, phone records, and medical records
Discovery allows both parties to prepare for trial and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their case. Discovery also promotes fairness and prevents surprises at trial.
4. Plea Bargaining and Trial
Plea bargaining is when the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge for a reduced sentence. It can save time and resources but also compromise justice and fairness.
Plea bargaining is a personal decision that depends on many factors, such as:
- How strong the case is against you
- The likelihood of winning at trial
- How serious are the accusations
- How severe is the punishment for criminal conspiracy
- The availability of defenses and mitigating factors
- The quality of your legal representation
- The impact of a conviction on your life
The judge can accept or reject the plea agreement. If the defendant rejects the plea bargain or the judge rejects it, the case goes to trial.
A trial is when both parties present their evidence and arguments before a judge or jury. They will then decide whether you are guilty or not guilty of the charges against you.
A trial consists of several stages:
- jury selection
- opening statements
- prosecution’s case
- defense’s case
- closing arguments
- jury instructions
- jury deliberation
The jury (or judge) decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty based on the evidence and the law. The judge imposes penalties if the defendant is guilty.
5. Appeal and Post-Conviction Relief
An appeal is a request made to a higher court to review the lower court’s decision for legal errors.
The appellate court reviews the trial court’s record, briefs, and oral arguments and can affirm, reverse, or remand the decision.
An appeal is not a new trial and requires a valid legal basis and strict deadlines. If you lose your appeal, you may seek post-conviction relief.
Post-conviction relief is when a court vacates, corrects, or modifies the conviction or sentence based on new evidence or claims.
It can include –
- a motion for a new trial
- a motion to vacate the judgment
- a motion for sentence modification
- a writ of habeas corpus
It’s also not a right and requires a valid legal basis and exhaustion of all other remedies.
You must file your motion or petition within one year after your conviction or sentence becomes final and submit your evidence and arguments within 30 days after filing. You must also pay filing fees and costs.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney!
The criminal defense process can be complex and intimidating, but you don’t have to face it alone. Instead, you need a criminal defense attorney with legal expertise who can guide you and protect you throughout the process.
A criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights, options, and best strategies. They can also help you achieve your case’s best possible outcome (win or reduce penalties)!