When police suspect that a crime has been committed, the police review facts, interview witnesses, and gather evidence against a suspect. Investigations may be as brief as a few minutes, or as long as several years, depending upon the complexity of the case. After the police have enough evidence, they will arrest the suspect.
After a suspect is arrested, he is taken before a judge for the initial appearance. The Court will usually set a bond at the initial appearance. If the bond set at the initial appearance is too high, the Court may reduce it later.
Generally, bond may be posted by either depositing the full amount in cash, or by having a bondsman post a bail bond. The bondsman charges a percentage of the total bond amount, usually ten percent, to post the bond.
The suspect must post bond, or stay in jail until the case is resolved.
If the Defendant is unable to make bond, he is entitled to a preliminary hearing. This is sometimes referred to as a probable cause hearing. Its function is to determine whether probable cause exists to believe the Defendant committed the crime.
If the Defendant posts bond prior to the preliminary hearing, he is not entitled to a preliminary hearing.
The District Attorney will next present the case to a grand jury to consider whether an indictment should be issued. An indictment is nothing more than an accusation, based upon probable cause, that the Defendant committed the crime.
The grand jury is a one-man show (the prosecutor). The grand jury hears only that evidence the prosecutor chooses to present. Further, the rules of evidence do not apply to grand jury proceedings. The Defendant has no right to participate or call witnesses to testify before the grand jury.
Shortly after a person is indicted, the Court will set the case for arraignment. At this proceeding, the defendant is officially informed of the charges against him. The Court will also inquire as to whether the defendant wishes to hire an attorney, or whether he is indigent and qualifies for a public defender. Finally, the Court will ask the defendant how he pleads to the charges, and will set an initial trial date.
After arraignment, defense counsel will file a motion for discovery. This motion generally requires the State to produce all evidence in its possession to the Defendant. By filing a motion for discovery, the Defendant may have a duty to produce certain discovery materials to the State as well.
Many times, a person accused of committing a crime will desire to make a deal with the State, and resolve the case without having to go to trial, thereby reducing the risk of more serious punishment.
Plea negotiation, or plea bargaining, can take many forums. The prosecutor may agree to reduce the charge to a less serious offense, or may agree to dismiss some of the charges pending against the defendant. The prosecutor may also agree to recommend a specific sentence to the Court. Of course, in exchange for the prosecutor doing these things, the defendant will be required to plead guilty to an agreed-upon charge.
If no plea agreement is reached, the case will proceed to trial. A trial typically begins with opening statements by the prosecutor and defense attorney. The State presents its case first. The State will call witnesses and introduce evidence that tend to show the defendant is guilty. The defense will then present its case and call witnesses and introduce evidence that tends to show the defendant is innocent, or undermine the State's case. After the defense concludes its presentation, the State will get a "second bite at the apple" to rebut evidence presented by the defense.
After the state presents its rebuttal evidence, the judge will instruct the jury on the law applicable to the case. After jury instructions, the prosecutor and defense attorney give closing arguments. The case is then submitted to the jury for a decision
Sentencing (if applicable)
If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the case proceeds to sentencing. Sentencing usually occurs at a separate hearing. Both the State and defense attorney are allowed to present evidence at the hearing. Further, the Court may order a pre-sentence investigation (PSI) to be conducted by a probation officer. The PSI gathers information about the defendant's background, and helps the Court determine an appropriate sentence.
This is a very basic thumbnail sketch of the stages of a criminal case. These cases are usually more complex and have several other steps. However, this should give you a general idea of the road ahead.
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