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Important Information About Criminal Cases

ARREST: Arrests are usually made after a crime is committed or reported and an investigation is conducted. This may all occur in rapid sequence if a crime is committed in the presence of a law enforcement officer. That is not to say that everyone who is arrested is guilty. Arrests are sometimes based on false, erroneous or exaggerated charges. If you are arrested, you have the right to remain silent and say nothing. Anything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to have an attorney and to have your attorney present before or at anytime during questioning by the police. After being arrested, before saying anything to anyone, you should talk to an attorney. It is not wise to try to talk your way out of an arrest or try to bargain with the police, unless you have the advice of an attorney. If you are arrested, immediately seek the advice of an attorney. If you can not afford to hire your own attorney, you are entitled to the services of the public defender. When you are arrested you have very important constitutional rights. Your constitutional rights are not meaningless legal technicalities; rather, your constitutional rights are sacred individual rights and liberties secured and protected by the highest law of our land: The United States Constitution. If arrested, be sure you exercise your constitutional rights. Most importantly, exercise your right to remain silent and exercise your right to an attorney.


BOOKING: Booking is part of the arrest procedure where the nature of the nature of the charge and the initial bond is recorded. Also, the defendant’s name, address, telephone, fingerprints, photograph, date of birth, and other identification information are recorded.


FIRST APPEARANCE: If you are booked into jail and are not released within 24 hours, you must appear before a judge at a criminal court proceeding called First Appearance. You should have an attorney at first appearance, if you can afford one. If you can not afford an attorney, the court will appoint a public defender to represent you. At the first appearance, the judge will inform you of the charges against you and your rights. Again, it would be unwise to make any statements about the charges against you, unless you have the advice of an attorney. The judge will review the criminal complaints and police reports in your case, to determine if there is probable cause to hold you on the charges. If the judge finds no probable cause, you may be released. If the judge finds probable cause you will be held on the charges. However, the judge will further consider what bond is appropriate in your case. If you have strong ties to the community (own your home, have a business, local employment, local family, and other “roots in the community”) you may be released on your own recognizance (RORed). This means that you do not have to pay money to get out of jail, but you do have to promise to appear in court when ordered to do so. The judge may also set, lower or raise any bail in your case. If you have bail set in your case, you can either pay cash to the jail in the entire amount, or you can go to a bondsman and pay a 10% bond premium and be released. The 10% premium is like an insurance premium paid to the bondsman and is not refunded to you at the end of the case. Also, most bonding companies require collateral (valuable property) to cover the balance of the bail.  However, if you pay the cash bond to the jail, you will be refunded the entire amount at the end of the case, if you appear in court when directed to do so.


DEFERMENTS: In many cases, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to get a criminal case diverted out of the criminal courts, by arranging for the defendant to enter into a pre-trial intervention agreement (PTI), or a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) or some other type of agreement with the State to defer prosecution of the case. In such cases the defendant must agree to certain conditions of deferment. Normally, upon the defendant satisfying all of the conditions of the deferment agreement, the State drops the criminal charges. Such cases usually involve less serious felonies and misdemeanors. To take advantage of the possibility of having a criminal case diverted out of court, it is very important for the defendant to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after arrest, and well before the case is set for arraignment.


ARRAIGNMENT: An arraignment is a criminal court proceeding where defendants are advised of the formal, written charges in the case. At the arraignment, the defendant may enter a plea of not guilty, a plea of guilty or a plea ofnolo contendere (no contest).  The defendant should have the advice of an attorney, before entering any plea. It is important for defendants to consult with their attorneys well before the arraignment. Often the attorney can negotiate a prosecution deferment or a plea bargain before arraignment and before formal charges are actually filed. It can be much more difficult to negotiate a resolution of a case after arraignment, because at that stage the State has made a formal commitment to prosecute the case The formal, written charges may be presented by a grand jury, a prosecutor or a police officer. The formal charges may be more serious, less serious or identical to the arrest charges. This is so, because in most cases after an arrest is made, a prosecutor reviews the police reports and other evidence and then decides what exact formal charges to file in court.


PRETRIAL PROCEEDINGS: Many things happen after arraignment. Most importantly, State evidence is examined and evaluated. State witnesses are interviewed. Also, in most cases the defendant must provide the State with information about defense witnesses and evidence. In appropriated cases, pre-trial motions are filed and hearings are conducted.


TRIAL: Typically the trial process begins with jury selection.  After a jury is selected, opening statements are given, witnesses are examined, evidence is presented, closing arguments are given, jury instructions are given, and jury deliberations begins. After deliberating the jury delivers its verdict, which may be guilty or not guilty. If the jury can not agree on a verdict, then a mistrial is declared. If the defendant is found guilty he may ask for a new trial and/or file an appeal.


SENTENCING: If a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty usually a hearing is set to determine an appropriate sentence. Prior to the sentencing hearing, the department of corrections may conduct a pre-sentence investigation to submit to the judge before sentencing. It is very important for a defendant to present as much mitigating evidence as reasonably possible to the court prior to the hearing (through the pre-sentence investigation) and at the time of the sentencing hearing through testimony and evidence. Sentences are often negotiated through and stipulated to as a part of plea bargaining. If a sentence is agreed to prior to entering a negotiated plea of guilty or no contest, then the defendant may be sentenced without the need for a special sentencing hearing. A sentence may include fines, probation, house arrest jail, prison or any combination of those things.