Criminal Law

Steps in a Criminal Case

Steps in a Criminal Case


1. Arrest
A person is arrested by a law enforcement officer who either observes a crime or has a warrant for arrest when probable cause exists that a person committed a crime. When a person is arrested, that person must be brought before a judge for an initial appearance within 24 hours of being arrested or must be released.

2. Initial Appearance
At the initial appearance, the judge determines the defendant’s name and address, informs the defendant of the charges and of the right to remain silent and to have an attorney. The judge appoints an attorney if the defendant cannot afford one, and sets the conditions for release from jail.

3. Preliminary Hearing
If a preliminary hearing is held, the judge hears evidence and testimony from witnesses called by the prosecuting attorney and the defendant’s attorney. If the judge determines there is enough evidence to believe the defendant probably committed the crime, the defendant is held for trial in superior court, and an arraignment date is set.

4. Arraignment
At the arraignment, the defendant enters a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. If the defendant enters a not guilty plea, the judge will set a trial date. If the defendant enters a guilty plea or declares no contest to the charges, the judge will set a date to sentence the defendant for the crime.

5. Trial
Opening Statements
The defendant has the right to a trial either before a jury or a judge. When the court is ready for the trial to begin, opening statements are made by both sides. In a criminal case, the prosecuting attorney speaks first.

To begin, the attorney gives an overview of the facts to be presented. The opposing attorney may present the same type of opening comment or may reserve the opening statement until later in the trial when that side of the case begins. Either attorney may choose not to give an opening statement.

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This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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