The criminal justice system can be complex and often intimidating to those new to its rules and processes. This blog series will help those who have found themselves within this system understand the process a little more and be able to face it with their attorney.
What are the "Charges" in a Criminal Case?
A charge is an accusation, nothing more. Depending on the type of charge, you will face either a misdemeanor or a felony. These charges come from a police investigation or citizen complaint and require those parties to provide reasonable cause for an arrest and charge to be made.
What is an Arraignment?
There are two types of arraignment an individual will face when charged with a crime. The first, is the Initial Arraignment Hearing which allows the defendant to hear from judge the charge being brought against them but also the process that will follow for their charge. Furthermore, the defendant, if they do not have an attorney, is allowed an opportunity by the court to hire one if they wish to. This process is a first appearance with the court and is required for both a misdemeanor and a felony.
However, depending on the crime, the initial arraignment is not when a defendant enters their plea for the crime. For an individual charged with a felony, a plea can only be made during the second arraignment. For a misdemeanor however, the initial arraignment and the second arraignment can be combined, therefore allowing the defendant to enter their plea during the initial appearance. It is recommended to have the advice of an attorney before one makes a plea, the criminal justice system is complex and therefore it is important you understand the charges that are being made against you before you make a plea.
The second appearance, which is called the arraignment, includes a process much like the initial appearance. The defendant is told the charge(s) being brought against them and is explained the process that will take place following the plea. The defendant is then able to enter their plea and the court will decide the bond for the defendant. If a defendant enters a not guilty plea then their case will be set to go to a trial. If a defendant pleads guilty then that means that they have plead guilty to the charge(s) brought against them and will accept the plea agreement, which was most likely discussed in pretrial meetings, from the prosecuting attorney.
What can happen before an Arraignment?
Before an arraignment occurs, many other court hearings can take place as well. This does depend on the severity of the case. The different types of hearings can be:
- Preliminary Hearings:
- A defendant facing a felony charge is given the opportunity for this type of hearing. What takes place is, the prosecuting attorney presents the evidence they have gathered for the defendant to be charged with their crime. They must provide adequate probable cause (enough reason) the charge(s) was committed by the defendant. If they succeeded then the defendant continues with the court for further action, meaning appear before the court for arraignment. However, in some cases, if they prosecutor does not succeed in showing enough probable cause against the defendant the judge can either dismiss the case or reduce the offense to something less serious.
- Pre-trial Conference:
- Look at this blog post on Pretrial Conferences to learn more. There can be multiple parts to a conference like this., Make sure you understand what it is you are going into.
- Motions Hearings:
- Are hearings where in which a judge is asked to issue a ruling or an order. These can take place prior to trials to resolve any sort of preliminary issues. These hearings can also take place after a trial in order to modify a decision.
Part 2 is coming soon...