Chronology of Criminal Cases
The following is a brief explanation as to the procedures in a criminal case.
Most of the time the first procedure in a criminal case starts with an arrest or a notice to appear in court.
You should speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer before making any statements to the police or arresting agency. You have the right to speak to an attorney.
If bond is set, you may need to contact a bondsman. Your Criminal Defense Lawyer can also file a motion to reduce bond.
Filing of an information or indictment
The Government will proceed to formally charge the defendant. Sometimes, when you hire a criminal defense lawyer, he or she can speak to the prosecutor before the government (State Attorney or U.S. Attorney) make any final decisions and can try to resolve the case before is filed in Court. If your criminal defense attorney has this opportunity, he or she should make every effort to speak to the prosecutor before formal charges are filed. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to avoid the filing of any formal charges, or negotiate some other favorable resolution to the case at this early point in the proceedings.
The discovery is all the evidence against you that the Government has and it is provided to your criminal defense attorney once he or she files a notice of appearance and files a request to participate in discovery. After reviewing the discovery in the case, providing and discussing the discovery with the client, and reviewing the applicable law, the criminal defense lawyer will be able to advise the client whether he or she should go to trial, or the criminal defense attorney may consider trying to negotiate with the government to resolve the case without going to trial and advising the client to enter an agreed upon plea agreement. The defendant, if eligible, could be considered for a Pretrial Diversion program, a deferred prosecution offered by the Government to the defendant that after being successfully completed could result in the dismissal of the case avoiding criminal prosecution and conviction.
After the Initial appearance, there are several proceedings before the Court. Bail Hearings, Arraignment, Suppression of Evidence Hearings, Change of Plea Hearings, among others.
A Plea Bargain is a negotiated plea agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant (through his or her criminal defense attorney) where the defendant agrees to accept certain consequences in exchange for some benefit (no imprisonment, a shorter term of imprisonment, pretrial diversion program, fines).
After the discovery has been provided, depositions of State witnesses have been taken by the criminal defense lawyer and the prosecutor (usually only in state cases), motions have been filed and ruled upon by the Court, and the criminal defense lawyer has advised the defendant of all his or her options and all the potential consequences of going to trial, the defendant must decide if he or she wants to proceed to trial. If the defendant decides to go to trial, the criminal defense attorney must subpoenas potential defense witnesses, prepare trial exhibits, research potential legal issues, and otherwise prepare for the trial. The case is set for trial before a Judge and a Jury, but unless the defendant agrees to allow the judge to decide the case, it will always be the jury that decides if the defendant is guilty of the charged crimes. To find a defendant guilty of a crime, the jury must return a unanimous verdict, finding that the prosecutor has met the heavy burden of proof in a criminal case, that is that the prosecutor has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed each and every essential element of the charged crime, and that the defendant did so knowingly, and usually intentionally.
If a defendant is convicted of the charged crime, the next step in the process, after post-trial motions challenging the verdict, is sentencing. There can be no doubt that sentencing is a critical part of a criminal case and the criminal defense lawyer must provide the court with all the information necessary to get the defendant the lowest possible sentence. The criminal defense lawyer should file a full sentencing memorandum, presenting every possible argument in favor of the defendant receiving the lowest sentence possible, providing the court with letters from the defendant’s family and friends, information about the defendant’s educational and employment background, etc. If a Presentence Report is ordered by the court, the criminal defense lawyer should be present for any interview of the defendant by the court officer (usually a probation officer) preparing the presentence report, present any appropriate objections to anything in the presentence report that is incorrect or misleading, and try to have favorable information about the defendant included in the presentence report.