The Criminal Process
The police arrest someone based on probable cause that they have committed
a criminal offense. However, the police do not file the charges. They
simply provide reports and evidence to the prosecuting attorney, who
then decides whether or not charges should be filed, and if so, what
FILING THE COMPLAINT:
The prosecuting attorney files the document with the court, which alleges
the charges against you. Arraignment/First Appearance: At the arraignment,
you are formally advised of the charges and your constitutional rights.
Bail is frequently set during the arraignment. Bail is used by the court
almost like an "insurance policy" that you will appear on future court
dates. The amount of bail is determined by the judge. The judge will
look to two factors in deciding bail: your risk of flight and whether
you pose a danger to the community. Bail amounts can range from being
released on your own recognizance, all the way up to millions of dollars.
In some cases no bail is allowed. Preliminary Hearing:
Preliminary Hearings are held in all felony offenses to review probable
cause. This is necessary for the judge to determine whether there is
sufficient evidence to support the charges against you. Once a Judge
determines that there is probable cause, he sends the case to the Superior
Court for trial. During the Preliminary Hearing, the district attorney
or the judge can add additional charges and/or readjust the bail.
2nd Arraignment on Filing Charges: If the judge has determined that
there is probable cause to support the charges, the prosecutor will
file a charging document called an Information in the Superior Court.
The Information alleges the charges which you are facing at trial. At
this time, you are formally advised of the charges and your constitutional
rights. Again, you enter a plea of not guilty.
Pre-trial Conference: At the pre-trial conference, the defense attorney
discusses the case with the prosecuting attorney and often may include
the judge in this process. This is a good opportunity to speak with
the prosecution in order to obtain the best possible possible settlement,
or plea-bargain. It also allows the defense attorney to provide information
which may prove your innocence.
Trial: During the jury trial you are entitled to have a jury of twelve
impartial jurors. Both the defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney
have an opportunity to make opening statements, introduce witnesses
and evidence in favor of their case, cross-examine witnesses and offer
closing arguments. During the deliberation phase of the case, the jury
decides whether the prosecution has met the burden of proving guilt
beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds you not guilty, you are
free to go and not subject to further prosecution based on the same
Sentencing If you are found guilty, the sentencing hearing is where
the judge determines and imposes the appropriate punishment. You may
be sentenced to probation instead of a term in state prison. Different
crimes carry different possible penalties. You are entitled to a sentencing
hearing to propose why you believe the judge should give you the lowest
Collateral Consequences In addition to any sentence imposed by the
court, conviction can have a number of additional consequences. In felony
cases, these consequences can include, but are not limited to: loss
of the right to vote, loss of the right to possess a firearm, loss of
the right to associate with other known criminals, registration as a
sexual offender, registration as a narcotics offender, or increased
penalties for future convictions.
Appeals If convicted, you may file an appeal to an appellate level
court with the argument that the trial court made legal errors. If the
defense can prove that the trial court made legal errors, or you were
denied due process of law or a fair trial, it may result in the reversal
of your conviction.
Parole is a conditional release from prison which entitles you to
serve the remainder of your term outside of prison. However, you are
still under the supervision of the department of corrections.
Expungement is a process where, in some cases, your conviction may
be removed from your record.