The 10 Stages of a Criminal Case

Steps Begin When Someone Is Arrested

Businessman in handcuffs faces judge in court
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If you have been arrested for a crime, you are at the beginning of what could become a long journey through the criminal justice system. Although the process may vary somewhat from state to state, these are the steps that most criminal cases follow until their case is resolved.

Some cases end quickly with a guilty plea and paying a fine, while others can go on for decades through the appeals process.

Stages of a Criminal Case

A criminal case begins when you are arrested for a crime. Under what circumstances can you be arrested? What constitutes being "under arrest?" How can you tell if you have been arrested or detained? This article answers those questions and more.

Booking Process
After you are arrested you are then processed into police custody. Your fingerprints and photo are taken during the booking process, a background check is performed and you are placed in a cell.

Bail or Bond
The first thing you want to know after being placed in jail is how much it's going to cost to get out. How is your bail amount set? What if you don't have the money? Is there anything that you can do that might influence the decision?

Usually, your first appearance in court after you have been arrested is a hearing called the arraignment. Depending on your crime, you may have to wait until the arraignment to have your bail set. It is also the time that you will learn about your right to an attorney.

Plea Bargaining
With the criminal court system overwhelmed with cases, only 10 percent of cases go to trial. Most of them are resolved during a process known as plea bargaining. But you have to have something with which to bargain and both sides must agree on the agreement.

Preliminary Hearing
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor tries to convince the judge there is enough evidence to show that a crime was committed and you probably committed it. Some states use a grand jury system instead of preliminary hearings. It is also the time that your attorney tried to convince the judge that the evidence is not convincing enough.

Pre-Trial Motions
Your attorney has the opportunity to exclude some of the evidence against you and try to establish some of the ground rules for your trial by making pre-trial motions. It is also the time when a change of venue is requested. Rulings made during this stage of the case can also be issues for appealing the case later.

Criminal Trial
If you are truly innocent or if you are not satisfied with any plea deals offered to you, you have the option to allow a jury to decide your fate. The trial itself usually has six important stages before a verdict is reached. The final stage is right before the jury is sent to deliberate and decides on your guilt or innocence. Prior to that, the judge explains what legal principles are involved with the case and outlines the ground rules the jury must utilize during its deliberations.

If you plead guilty or you were found guilty by a jury, you will be sentenced for your crime. But there are many factors that can affect whether you get a minimum sentence or the maximum. In many states, judges must also hear statements from the victims of the crime before sentencing. These victim impact statements can have a significant influence on the final sentence.

Appeals Process
If you think a legal error caused you to be convicted and sentenced unfairly, you have the ability to appeal to a higher court. Successful appeals are very rare, however, and usually make headlines when they happen.

In the United States, everyone accused of a crime is assumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law and has the right to a fair trial, even if they cannot afford to hire their own attorney. The criminal justice system is there to protect the innocent and seek the truth.

In criminal cases, an appeal asks a higher court to look at the record of the trial proceedings to determine if a legal error occurred that may have affected the outcome of the trial or the sentence imposed by the judge.

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Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "The 10 Stages of a Criminal Case." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, September 8). The 10 Stages of a Criminal Case. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "The 10 Stages of a Criminal Case." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).