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How Does A Criminal Case Proceed

Criminal Proceedings

The following definitions are provided to explain the criminal justice process:

Arrest and Booking:

This is when a police officer takes you into custody and takes you to jail. The process of actually putting you in jail is called booking.

Initial Appearance (Commonly referred to as “Arraignment”):

If you are charged with a crime, this will be the first time you will go before a judge. Your legal rights will be described for you, and a bond will be set for you which you must arrange to pay before you may be released from jail. In some cases, this bond may be an ”Own-Recognizance Bond” (“O.R. Bond”) which requires no payment of money to a bondsman. You also will be told the next time you are to appear in court.

Preliminary Hearing Conference:

This hearing may also be called a pre-preliminary hearing or an announcement docket. Generally, these hearings are a time for your attorney and the prosecutor to discuss your case. The prosecutor will make a plea bargain offer which you and your attorney will discuss. If you decide to accept the offer, you would waive or give up your right to a trial and set your case for a date for you to plead guilty. If you do not accept the plea offer, you will have your case set for a preliminary hearing or trial.

Preliminary Hearing:

If you are charged with a felony you have a right to a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a court hearing where witnesses testify and the judge decides whether there is enough evidence against you to order you to have a trial. If the court believes there is enough evidence to believe a crime was committed and enough evidence to believe you committed the crime (often, this is called “probable cause”), the court will “bind you over” for trial. If the court does not believe there is enough evidence, the case is dismissed. The prosecutor is not required to present all of their witnesses or all of the evidence they have collected. They are only required to present enough evidence to meet the “probable cause” standard.

Jury Call Docket:

This is a hearing where you and your lawyer meet with the judge and the prosecutor to announce that you want a trial or to plead guilty.

Plea or Disposition Docket:

At this hearing, you will appear with your attorney and plead guilty or “no contest” to a judge. At this hearing the court will announce your punishment based on your plea bargain agreement with the prosecutor. If the judge thinks the punishment is not harsh enough, you will be allowed to withdraw your plea of guilty and have a trial.

Blind Plea:

If you do not have a plea bargain agreement with the prosecutor, you may still wish to enter a plea of guilty and allow the judge to determine what you sentence will be. This type of plea is often called a “blind plea.” In this situation, you do not know the punishment the judge will give you, and you are throwing yourself on the mercy of the court. If you do not like the punishment the court decides is appropriate for you, you do not have the right to withdraw your plea and have your case set for trial.

Jury Trial:

This is where a jury decides whether you are guilty of the crime with which you have been charged. The prosecutor must prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” to the jury or the judge in order for you to be convicted of a crime.

Non-Jury or Bench Trial:

This is a trial where a jury is waived and the judge alone decides whether you are guilty or not guilty of the crime with which you have been charged. In most cases both sides must agree to waive a jury.

Deferred Sentence:

You are not convicted of a crime until you are found guilty and punished for the crime. With a deferred sentence, the judge finds you guilty of the crime but postpones, delays or defers sentencing until a later date (from one day to five years). If you do everything the court orders you to do, the court will dismiss your case and the charge will not appear on your record. You may be ordered to pay all court costs and fees, see a probation officer, go to treatment and make sure you do not break the law again. If you do not successfully complete the deferred sentence requirements or if you are charged with committing a “new” crime, the Court may sentence you to jail or prison.

Suspended Sentence:

You are convicted of a crime but are on probation for all or part of the sentence; it is suspended so you do not have to go to prison for that amount of time, as long as you satisfy the conditions of probation. The probation may be “supervised” or “unsupervised.” If it is supervised, you must regularly report to a probation officer. If it is “unsupervised,” you simply must obey the rules of probation and not break the law. If you are unsuccessful, however, you may be sentenced to spend the entire sentence in jail or prison.

Bench Warrant:

A bench warrant is an order by the court to have you arrested because you failed to appear in court when the court told you to appear.

Categories: Criminal Defense