Written by attorney Erik W Nicholson

Breakdown of a Criminal Case

Investigation When a crime is reported, the police are responsible for conducting an investigation. A suspect may be arrested or issued a citation in lieu of arrest. After completing their investigation, the police submit their reports to the District Attorney's Office. A prosecuting attorney reviews the case and decides whether to charge an individual or individuals with a crime. Police officers may also submit an incident report, with no arrest or citation, for review.

Arrest When a person is arrested and taken to jail, they may remain in jail until their arraignment or may be released. If released, the defendant must sign a release agreement. The conditions of the release agreement include appearing in court as ordered, not leaving the state without the permission of the court, and not having any contact (direct or indirect) with the victim of the crime. The release agreement is in effect until the court case is concluded.

Filing Criminal Charges A criminal case begins when the District Attorney's Office, on behalf of the State of Oregon, files a charging document (complaint, information or indictment) against the defendant.

A crime is a felony if the maximum penalty includes a sentence of more than one year of incarceration. Felonies include possession, manufacturing and delivery of drugs; robbery; burglary; theft in the first degree; identity theft, assault in the first degree/second degree/third degree; and most sexual assault crimes.

A crime is a misdemeanor if the defendant cannot be ordered to serve more than one year in jail. Common misdemeanors include most assault in the fourth degree cases; harassment; menacing; theft in the second degree/third degree, criminal trespass and most DUI cases.

Arraignment The arraignment is the first court appearance after a defendant is arrested or issued a citation. At the arraignment, the defendant is formally advised of the criminal charges filed. The charges filed may be different than those charged by the police. In misdemeanor cases, a plea may be entered at the time of arraignment. In most felony cases, a plea may not be entered until after the preliminary hearing or grand jury takes place.

Preliminary Hearing At a preliminary hearing, the State must present evidence to the court to show that a felony has been committed and that the State has sufficient evidence to prosecute the defendant for the offense. A defendant may waive his right to this hearing and proceed to the next step in the prosecution. Depending on the charges filed and other considerations, a person charged with a felony may receive a preliminary hearing or may have his case presented to the Grand Jury.

Grand Jury The grand jury is a group of seven citizens selected from the jury pool to hear evidence on crimes committed in their particular County. They determine whether the State has sufficient evidence to prosecute the defendant for the offense.

Entering a Plea If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, a trial date will be set. It may be several months before a trial takes place, and the trial may be reset (postponed) more than once. If the case goes to trial, alleged victims and witnesses will be subpoenaed to testify. If the defendant enters a guilty plea or a no contest plea, the defendant may be sentenced at the time of the plea, or the sentencing may be scheduled for a later date.

Pre-Trial Negotiations In many cases the District Attorney and defense attorney will discuss the case to determine whether or not the case can be appropriately resolved through negotiations. Negotiations are based on the facts of the case, the defendant's criminal history, input from a variety of sources, and attorney discretion. For crime victims, the advantages of plea negotiation are that the case will be resolved without a trial and there is a predictable result. For the criminal justice system as a whole, plea negotiations cost much less than trials and can represent significant savings to the defendant. Plea offers are frequently discussed and cases resolved at a pre-trial conference. Approximately 95% of all cases are resolved through negotiations.

Trial If a case is not resolved through negotiations, it will proceed to trial. The defendant has the right to a jury trial, but may waive that right and have the trial heard by the judge instead. The defendant is also entitled to a speedy trial. If the defendant is in custody, the trial must be scheduled within sixty days from the date of the arrest, except in murder cases. The defendant may also waive the right to a speedy trial. Even though a defendant may have admitted committing the crime, they can still go to trial and require the State to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that they committed the crime. Witnesses are subpoenaed to testify at trial and both the State and the defense may present evidence.

Civil Compromise If a defendant is charged with a crime punishable as a misdemeanor, the victim may agree to a settlement or civil compromise and the charges will be dismissed. If the defendant pays all costs and expenses incurred and the victim acknowledges in writing that satisfaction has been received, the court may dismiss the charges.

Sentencing Sentencing occurs after the defendant is convicted at trial or enters a guilty or no contest plea. The sentence is the punishment imposed on the defendant and is determined by the judge within the boundaries set by Oregon law. The type of crime and the defendant's criminal history are taken into consideration and the judge makes the final decision.

Appeal After sentencing, a defendant may appeal the conviction and sentence. Appeals are heard by the Oregon Court of Appeals. The time it takes to decide an appeal varies greatly, depending on the number of issues raised and the complexity of the case. In some cases, the appeal may continue on to the Oregon Supreme Court or in death penalty cases, the appeal goes directly to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer