Many people's first introduction to the legal system occurs during a criminal case. Each criminal case is different, but there are some steps that are common to most, if not all, criminal cases. In this section you will find information on what to expect at each stage of a typical criminal case -- including tips on the arrest process, plea bargains, sentencing options, and more. The resources on this page are meant to provide a general overview of a criminal matter---from arrest to the appeals process. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local criminal defense attorney.
Getting arrested can be a frightening experience no matter who you are. When someone is arrested by the police, a specific series of events follows. The police must follow legal procedures during the actual arrest process, and at many other stages along the way to actually placing a suspect in jail.
A typical criminal case has several different phases. Unless a guilty plea is entered, criminal cases are resolved by trial. A defendant has a constitutional right to a "speedy trial." However, if a defendant demands a "speedy trial" and the prosecutor is not prepared to proceed to trial, the charges against the defendant may be dismissed. If not, the case will go to trial.
During trial, the jury is instructed that the defendant is presumed innocent, and that the presumption of innocence does not change until the jury begins deliberations. Jurors are not supposed to abandon the presumption of innocence before hearing all of the evidence in the case.
If the jury finds the defendant guilty, a defendant may file post-trial motions, such as a motion for a new trial. These motions are rarely granted. The defendant may also file an appeal.
After a person is convicted of a crime, whether through a guilty plea, plea bargain, or jury verdict, the appropriate legal punishment is determined at the sentencing phase. A number of different kinds of punishment may be imposed on a convicted criminal defendant including fines, incarceration, probation and even community service.
The sentencing judge will also consider punishments and sentencing ranges identified in applicable criminal statutes, as well as the defendant's background and personal, social and economic circumstances.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You
It is the job of criminal defense attorneys to represent those charged with crimes in court. Crimes can range in severity from a misdemeanor to a felony. Punishment can range from a minor fine or community service to years in prison or even death.
Having an attorney during criminal proceedings is critical for those charged with committing a crime. In fact, the Constitution promises that all citizens charged with a crime will be provided representation.
Your criminal defense attorney's job is to protect your rights and ensure your access to a fair trial. By examining the circumstances surrounding your case and weighing the strength of the evidence against you, your defense lawyer will apply current law, along with previous legal precedent, to your specific situation and use it to devise a solid legal strategy and build the best possible case for acquittal.