Stages Of A Criminal Case

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Stages Of A Criminal Case

California Criminal Defense Lawyers

If criminal charges have been filed against you, then you should contact a criminal defense attorney at My Rights Law immediately. My Rights Law is highly experienced in getting criminal cases resolved on the most favorable grounds possible for defendants. To get started on your defense, call My Rights Law  at (888) 702-8882 or submit our secure web form form for a free consultation.

Introduction To Stages Of A Criminal Case

Criminal case procedure often does not match what we see on Law & Order or Perry Mason. However, courts must follow clear rules and procedures in these cases.

Here are the different stages of a criminal case.

Arrest

Police can arrest someone in two circumstances. First, they may see someone committing a crime or have a reasonable suspicion someone committed a crime. Second, the police can ask the judge for a search warrant based on evidence they’ve collected.[1]

After an arrest, the police take a person’s mugshots and fingerprints and make a list of their clothing and things in their possession. Depending on the seriousness of the crime, the defendant may be held in custody until arraignment. Alternatively, the defendant may be given a date to return to court.

Arraignment And Bail

During the arraignment, the prosecutor tells the judge and the defendant the criminal charges. The defendant will enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.” The judge will set bail, depending on the crime’s seriousness and the defendant’s criminal history. The judge can decide to:

  • Deny bail and keep the defendant in custody
  • Have the person pay bail to guarantee they will return for trial, or
  • Release the person without requiring bail.[2]

In California, if you’re in custody, arraignment must take place within 48 hours of arrest.[3]

Pre-Trial Hearings And Motions

Before a case goes to trial, the prosecutor and defense attorneys may attend pre-trial hearings and motions. This portion of a criminal trial is significant because it sets the stage for the actual trial.

During pre-trial hearings, the attorneys set a schedule for the trial. The defense attorneys use this time to file motions to dismiss some or all the charges and try to limit what evidence and witnesses the jury can hear.

If the defendant takes a plea deal, the court will schedule a pre-trial hearing to hear the plea agreement.

Trial

Most people are familiar with the trial phase of a criminal case because we’ve seen it countless times in courtroom dramas. We see attorneys question witnesses and present evidence to the jury.

Trials can last anywhere from a day to months, depending on the case’s complexity. All criminal trials are broken into several distinct phases.

Jury Selection

Jury selection, otherwise known as voir dire, lets the prosecution and defense attorneys interview potential members of the jury. Jurors can be excluded if the judge or either set of attorneys believes a juror would be biased and unable to return a fair verdict. Attorneys can also remove a certain number of jurors for no reason at all.

Opening Statements

During opening statements, the attorneys tell the jury the story of the case based on what the evidence shows. The prosecution always gives the first opening statement. The defense can choose to give an opening statement next, or they can wait to give an opening statement after the prosecution finishes presenting their evidence.

Evidence And Witness Presentations

Attorneys use witnesses to present evidence to the jury and tell the story of what happened, which is the longest period of a criminal trial. It can last an afternoon, or it can last months, depending on the complexity of the case.

The prosecutor will present evidence and witnesses first. They will often call the police officers who responded to a crime and investigated it. Prosecutors may ask expert witnesses, including forensic experts, to explain technical evidence like fingerprints or DNA to the jury. People who witnessed the crime, as well as alleged victims, may also talk about what they saw, heard, and felt.

The prosecutor will ask questions through direct examination. The defendant can also ask questions through cross-examination and try to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case.

When the prosecutor finishes making their case, they will rest. Then, it’s the defendant’s turn to present their own witnesses and evidence. The defendant will ask questions in direct examination, and then the prosecutor can cross-examine witnesses. After the defendant finishes presenting witnesses and evidence, the defendant will rest their case.

The prosecutor can present additional witnesses or evidence at this point to try to rebut or deny the defendant’s evidence.

Closing Statements

Once both sides present evidence, they will give their closing statements to the jury. Closing statements will tell the story of the case based on the evidence presented to the jury. Attorneys end closing statements by asking the jury to examine the evidence and decide in their favor.

Jury Instructions

After both sides present closing statements, the judge will read instructions to the jury about how to reach a verdict. The judge will tell the jury that the prosecutor needs to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury has reasonable doubts about any aspect of the case, or if the prosecutor didn’t prove their case, the judge will tell the jury to return a not guilty verdict.

Jury Deliberations And The Verdict

Once the judge reads instructions to the jury, they will review the evidence and arguments in a process known as jury deliberation. Juries are sequestered, meaning left alone, in a private room while they have this discussion.

They are only allowed to think about the evidence presented to them, and they can’t talk about the case with other people. Jurors are allowed to ask the judge questions about the case or to rehear evidence that was presented earlier in the case.

Jury deliberation can be quick, or it can take some time. In California, juries in criminal trials must be unanimous, meaning that all jurors must agree that the defendant is either guilty or not guilty.[4]

When the jury reaches a verdict, they will read the verdict in court in front of the judge, attorneys, and defendant.

Sentencing Hearing

Sentencing hearings take place after a plea agreement has been entered or after a jury returns a “guilty” verdict. In California, the judge, not the jury, will issue a sentence.

At the sentencing hearing, the judge will consider evidence of the defendant’s prior good and bad conduct to determine the length of their sentence. The prosecutor and defendant can present evidence and witnesses. During the sentencing hearing, alleged victims and their family members might make a statement about how their lives have been affected by the crime.

Sentencing hearings must take place within ten days of a guilty plea or verdict in a felony case.[5]

Appeal

Finally, if the defendant is found guilty, they can file an appeal.[6] Defendants can raise different problems they thought happened during their trial, including:

  • Ineffective assistance of counsel
  • Misconduct by the prosecutor
  • Jury misconduct, and
  • The judge abused their discretion.

The defendant needs to show this error likely affected the outcome of the case. Small mistakes can be ignored, but if a mistake is big enough, the appellate court can great an appeal. An appeal will let the defendant receive a new trial if the prosecutor wants to retry the case.

If you need an attorney to represent you in a criminal trial, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at My Rights Law are here for you. Call My Rights Law at (888) 702-8882 or contact us through our secure web form for a free case evaluation

FOOTNOTES
[1] California Penal Code 836
[2] California Penal Code 1268
[3] California Penal Code 825
[4] California Constitution Article 16
[5] California Penal Code 1166
[6] California Penal Code 1235

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