So, you have been arrested in the State of Connecticut and want to know what to expect and how the process works.
Many times people involved in criminal cases become confused and frustrated by the Court system. Sometimes it helps to get an overall picture of how the system works.
I have been involved in representing people accused of criminal/motor vehicle offenses for many years. This experience has made me very familiar with the workings of the Court and protecting the rights of people who have been arrested.
The criminal justice system is neither perfect nor efficient. There are often many delays and frequent Court appearances. Although these delays are often frustrating, the passage of time can be helpful in resolving criminal cases.
Whenever you have to be in Court, it is important to dress respectably to make a positive impression on the judge and other people who have a role in deciding your case. Please keep this in mind.
Arrest and Bail Bonds
The words bail and bond are two different words that effectively mean the same thing. It is the amount of money that must be provided to the Court before a person who has been arrested can be released from state custody.
A person who is arrested is generally taken to the police station. If the arrest is a "street arrest" – an arrest without a warrant – the police will set bail and the amount of bail will be reviewed by the Bail Commissioner. The Bail Commissioner can lower the bail amount and often does. If there is an arrest warrant, a specific bond amount is often set by the Court. A bond imposed by the Court cannot be modified by the police or the Bail Commissioner. Only a Judge can modify the bond.
Once bail is set, it can be posted in cash or via a bail bondsman. Those who are unable to post bail at the time of arrest are brought to Court on the following day (except for weekends). There, they will be brought before a judge and advised of their constitutional rights. The judge can leave the bail amount as set or raise or lower the amount. The judge will also continue the case for a first appearance. Bail can then be posted at the Clerk's Office in the Court, in cash or through a bondsman.
Court Appearances, Pre-Trials and Plea Bargaining
The first appearance at Court is almost always in the Geographical Area (G.A.) Courts. The purpose is to decide whether to transfer the case to Part A of the Court, which deals with serious felony charges, or to leave the case in theG.A. Court. If the case stays in the G.A., the person arrested will plead not guilty and the case will be continued for a pre-trial conference. Sometimes this first appearance date can wrap-up the case completely, either through a favorable plea bargain or, sometimes, by a prosecutor's decision not to go forward with the case. Often, the case is continued without a plea, for further investigation.
A pre-trial conference in the G.A. courts occurs approximately four to six weeks after the not guilty plea. The conference is an opportunity for us as your lawyer, the prosecutor, and the judge to discuss the nature of the charges, the legal issues involved and the defense. This is also an opportunity for plea bargaining. There is almost always some attempt to resolve the case without a trial, but the final decision to resolve your case always rests with you.
There are a number of diversionary programs available to those accused of certain types of crimes. For those who have no prior criminal record, Accelerated Rehabilitation is often a consideration for crimes not of a serious nature. For minor drug offenses, there are the Community Service Labor Program and the Drug Education Program. For individuals who have committed serious offenses as a reult of an underlying drug addiction there is the CADAC program. For first time offenders charged with Driving While Intoxicated, there is an Alcohol Education Program. There is a program available to individuals who suffer from psychiatric conditions. There is a program related to domestic violence as well as violent crimes that take place at school. One or all of these may be available in your case depending on the circumstances. All of these options apply only if the judge consents. You need to discuss these options with your attorney to see if they are applicable.
Any plea bargain offered by the State should be discussed thoroughly with you. Often, based upon the type of charges and the defenses available, you may not want to plea bargain, but would rather have a trial before a jury or judge. The type of charges, the evidence available and the risks of conviction and imprisonment are all factors to consider regarding the possibility of a favorable plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement where a person pleads guilty or no contest to some charge in exchange for a specific sentence and/or imposition of a fine. The nature and type of sentence involved in any particular plea bargain depends on the circumstances of each case and can include probation.
Often a person who wants to take advantage of a plea bargain offer does not have to admit guilt. A person can merely pleanolo contendere, which means no contest, or plead under what is called theAlforddoctrine. Under theAlford doctrine, a person says, in essence, "I am not guilty, but I don't want to be found guilty of the charges filed against me after a trial and receive a sentence in those circumstances. Therefore, I am going to allow a judgment of guilty to be entered against me in exchange for a plea bargain that will guarantee me a more favorable result. I still insist, however, that I did not commit the crime with which I am charged."
It is not necessary for a person to accept any plea bargain offer made by the prosecution. In fact, many times lawyers for both sides bargain back and forth to try and get the best result possible. Quite often there will be several pre-trials conducted in a case. This accounts for some of the delay that I mentioned above. Each pre-trial usually means there will be additional bargaining discussions.
If after one or more pre-trials no satisfactory agreement can be reached, the case will be put on a trial list.
A trial is a lot like what you see on television. The State must present sufficient evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the charges. You have no obligation to testify or even present any evidence. Depending on the nature of the charges and the evidence available to the prosecution and to you, we may or may not present witnesses. At the end of the trial, if the jury finds you not guilty, you are released from custody and all charges are dismissed. If, on the other hand, you are found guilty, the prosecution may request that bond be increased and that you be placed in jail until sentencing, unless the new bond is posted.
Sentencing can happen immediately after a plea of guilty if all parties agree. Usually, on more serious charges, sentencing is four to six weeks after verdict or guilty pleas. During this period, a probation officer completes a pre-sentence investigation outlining the charges, the defendant's record, and other aspects of the person's background. The probation officer then files a report which helps the judge to decide what sentence to impose. The judge passes sentence after reading the pre-sentence report and listening to the prosecution, defense counsel and the defendant.
It is important to recognize that the victim will have input into the sentencing process. The victim can appear in Court and speak to the Judge in opposition at the time of sentencing or can speak to the Probation Officer who authors the pre-sentence report. Sometimes, friends or relatives of the defendant will appear in Court to speak to the judge to ask for leniency.
The more serious felony cases transferred to Part A follow the same general course that is outlined above. After the transfer, a plea of not guilty is entered and the case is continued for a pre-trial. After that initial pre-trial, usually a second pre-trial is held. In some cases, there may be a series of such conferences. If the case cannot be resolved at that point, it is usually set down for trial. Trial and sentencing in Part A are almost identical to what has been described above. The main difference between cases in the G.A. and those transferred to Part A is that Part A cases are more serious and the stakes much higher.
Hopefully, this has provided some overview of the process so that you can have an understanding of how things will proceed. Please call me with any questions you may have.
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