Based on their severity, criminal charges carry penalties ranging from community service to prison sentences. An experienced criminal lawyer can help prove your innocence or get you the least possible penalty. Hiring an attorney is ideal as they understand the criminal justice system and the procedures involved in a criminal defense case. Here’s an in-depth look at these procedures:
This is the initial hearing of a case before a judge. It typically occurs on the same day or the day after an arrest. The goal is to help the party charged with a crime defense attorney understand their charges and rights. Defendants have the right to remain silent and have an attorney present while their charges are being read. The state may provide you with an attorney or allow you to hire one. When you do, your criminal lawyer can petition the judge to grant bail, allowing you to remain free until your trial. Judges determine whether to grant bail based on one’s criminal history, the severity of their crime, whether they have family nearby, their flight risk, and whether they threaten witnesses in the case. A criminal attorney can show you’re a low-risk defendant if you don’t threaten the case or society.
Discovery can prevent defendants and plaintiffs from feeling ambushed at trial. Prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys share evidence they plan to use in trial to allow both sides to develop arguments. Lawyers typically get all the reports written about a case. They also talk to potential witnesses who can help prove their client’s innocence. Courts allow lay, expert, and character witnesses. Lay witnesses are those who witness a crime. Expert witnesses are specialists who provide professional opinions based on their education and training. Character witnesses are people who know the defendant.
Information collected during discovery guides the plea bargaining process, as criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors can negotiate more efficiently when they understand what each side plans to present in court. The goal of plea bargaining is to prevent a trial. Both parties may negotiate and reach an agreement out of court if the prosecutor doesn’t have sufficient evidence to present at trial. The result may be a dismissal or a reduction of your current charge to a lesser one and a recommendation for a light sentence. The latter occurs when one pleads guilty before a judge and agrees to receive sentencing.
A preliminary hearing occurs when the defense and prosecution fail to reach an agreement and the defendant pleads not guilty. The hearing occurs within two weeks of a defendant’s arraignment if they’re in jail or three weeks if they’re out on bail. It allows the judge assigned to the case to determine if there’s probable cause the defendant could have committed the crime for which they’re charged. This means it’s up to the prosecution to present its evidence and witnesses. If the judge determines probable cause, the case moves to trial. Without probable cause, the judge can dismiss the case.
Pre-trial motions are applications submitted by prosecutors and lawyers requesting the court to decide on matters specific to a case before trial. Common motions filed include motions to suppress evidence, motions to change trial venues, and motions to dismiss. Your lawyer may file a motion to suppress if they don’t want prosecutors to present specific statements or evidence during your trial. They may submit a motion to change venues if there’s reason to believe your right to an impartial jury has been jeopardized. This may happen if your case has received a lot of publicity. They may file a motion to dismiss if there’s insufficient evidence on a case to warrant a trial. A lawyer may file this motion if their client waives their right to a preliminary hearing.
This procedure starts with jury selection. Prosecution and defense teams have multiple peremptory challenges, which they can use to excuse biased jurors. After jury selection, both teams make their opening statements, present their cases, and make closing statements to the jury. The prosecution’s goal is to show that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defense aims to establish innocence or cast doubt. After the closing statements, the jury deliberates and announces a guilty, not guilty, or hung jury verdict. If found guilty, the judge schedules a sentencing date. In case of a not guilty verdict, they acquit the defendant. A hung jury occurs when the jury can’t agree on a verdict. This results in a mistrial, as juries must reach a unanimous decision for one to be considered guilty.
Seek Guidance from a Criminal Lawyer
Federal law requires prosecutors and defense lawyers to follow specific criminal procedure procedures. Hire an experienced criminal lawyer to minimize the risk of making errors that can jeopardize your freedom. The right lawyer will know how to handle each procedure to secure your release or reduce penalty severity.