The primary stages involved in processing a criminal case are summarized below to help you understand what happens when a person is accused of a crime.
- First Appearance: At the first appearance, the defendant is informed of the charges against him or her, a lawyer is usually appointed, and a second appearance date is set.
- Case Management: At the case management, a date is set for the trial (for misdemeanor) or the preliminary hearing (for felonies).
- Preliminary Hearing (Felony cases only): The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for the judge to determine if there is enough evidence to require the defendant to stand trial. The state must establish ‘probable cause’ that the defendant committed a felony.
- Arraignment: When a defendant is bound over for trial following a preliminary hearing, a date for arraignment is set. The purpose of arraignment is to advise the defendant of the charges, penalties, and their right to trial. The Court then takes the defendant’s plea and sets a date for trial. An arraignment in a misdemeanor case can also be done at the first appearance.
- Trial: The trial of a felony offense is to a jury of twelve (12) people. The trial of a misdemeanor may be to a jury of six (6) people or to a judge. If you are necessary witness for the trial, you will receive a subpoena which tells you when and where to testify.
- Sentencing: If the defendant is convicted of the crime, the court will set a date for sentencing. A victim’s views will be presented to the court if they have completed a victim impact statement.
Not all cases go to trial. The reduction of charges or dismissal of some counts in an existing case occurs from time to time. This procedure, which is called plea negotiation, plays an important part in the criminal process. As a case develops, certain facts may be discovered that require the reduction of charges against a defendant. In some instances, it is because things not known at the time of charging are brought to light; sometimes it is because evidence or statements made by the defendant thought to be available at the trial are not available; sometimes important witnesses cannot be located. In any event, when plea negotiation is used, it is only after a careful determination that justice is best served.