The criminal trial process can be a difficult one for someone to endure. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way if ever faced with this sort of situation. Our goal today is to help you understand what to expect from start to finish in the criminal trial process.
The process starts with an arrest and ends with a final sentence. Before we go any further, it is important to know that having a criminal defense attorney on your side to help you through the process can be the difference between a negative and positive outcome.
Here are the steps within the criminal trial process:
Criminal proceedings generally begin with an arrest. For this to happen, the police must have probable cause that a crime has been committed. The police can also initiate an arrest if they witness a crime take place. Sometimes the police need a warrant to arrest a person.
An arrest warrant is an official document from the court that gives law enforcement the authority to place someone under arrest. On the arrest warrant is detail regarding a crime that has been committed, or accused of committing. Many times the warrant will also include the bail required to be released from jail. Bail is determined by a number of factors. For more information on bail and bail bonds, see this article.
Following the arrest is booking. This process does take quite some time, but it is always in a person’s best interest to be as cooperative as possible during this time. You should know that after an arrest you do have some rights.
These rights include:
- The right to remain silent. Because anything you say, can, and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one can be appointed to you. Court appointed attorneys are also known as public defenders.
- You are allowed a phone call after an arrest.
Arrested in San Marcos?
Following the arrest and booking, it is not uncommon to be held in custody before receiving any sort of charge. The max time to be held in custody before being informed of charges against you is 72 hours.
The way a charge is filed is as follows:
- First, police will provide the county’s attorney’s office with reports of the arrest.
- Using the arrest reports, a prosecutor then decides what crime to charge you with.
- If there are in fact legitimate charges decided upon by the prosecutor, he or she will file a complaint. A complaint is the formal document for a charge to be placed upon an arrested person.
Initial hearing and court appearance
Next in the criminal trial process is the initial hearing. The initial hearing is where appear in court before a judge. Generally, this will take place within 48 hours after an arrest has been made. At the initial hearing, the judge will explain several things including:
- Charges a person is receiving;
- Constitutional rights a person has;
- The fact that a person is entitled to a court appointed attorney;
- The bail process and what a person’s bail is set at;
- What to expect next in the criminal trial process. At this time, the judge will announce the next hearing date scheduled.
At this stage, an arraignment may take place. An arraignment is where the accused person will enter a plea after the judge reads that person the charges against them.
The following are the pleas that can be entered:
- Guilty. Here, a person will admit to the crime. If this plea is entered, a conviction will immediately be entered by the court.
- Not guilty. A person pleas that they did not commit the crime for the charge they received.
- No contest. Guilt is not being admitted, but the charge is not being contested either.
After the arraignment, a preliminary hearing is usually set for a date a few weeks later. In the preliminary hearing, the court will need to show that it has the required evidence to move forward with a set charge. If the court does, in fact, prove this, a trial date will be set.
Discovery and pretrial
Once a trial date has been set, the next part of the criminal defense process the is the discovery stage. Here, the court and the defense will exchange evidence. It is common at this stage for a plea bargain to be made between a defense attorney and a prosecutor. A plea bargain means that a person will plead guilty in exchange for a reduction in charges or severity of punishment.
During pretrial, the defense attorney might file pretrial motions. A reason for filing these motions would be to make sure that only allowable evidence is used in court.
If no settlement or disposition has been met by a prosecutor and the criminal defense attorney outside of court, the case will go to trial.
Criminal trials are generally a few days in length. Some criminal trials can last up to several weeks.
The stages of a trial are as such:
- Voir dire. This is known as the jury selection.
- Opening statements. This is where argument outlines are presented to the court by both sides of the case.
- Witnesses and evidence. Here the court will present its first case. At this point in the trial, the defense is able to cross-examine the witness set forth by the state.
- Closing arguments. Final statements are summarized to the court by both attorneys of the evidence that was presented.
- Jury deliberation. After both sides have presented closing arguments, the jury is instructed on the process to reach a verdict. At this time, the jury will look at all of the evidence in what is called, deliberation, to help them reach a verdict in the case.
- Verdict. Once the jurors of the jury reach a decision, the verdict of guilty or not guilty will be announced to the judge. If a jury comes to a verdict of not guilty, the person charged is removed of their crime. If the verdict is returned as guilty, then a sentence will follow.
- Sentence. The formal decision by the court on your case.
In the event a person pleads not guilty, that person can appeal the conviction. This is really where it is beneficial to have a criminal defense attorney on your side, who could potentially help you work out a plea bargain. By pleading guilty to a crime, this can affect your personal record for a very long time.
In the event someone loses at trial after entering a not-guilty plea, that person can then also appeal their case.
Should you hire a San Marcos criminal defense attorney?
We understand that the criminal trial process can be complex. This is why we recommend consulting with a criminal defense lawyer in San Marcos who can best help your case. If you find yourself in this situation after an arrest, we can help. Contact us today.