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Understanding the Stages of a Criminal Case

The legal proceedings of a criminal case must follow procedures established by the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and state law. The criminal case procedures are designed to provide the defendant and prosecutor enough time to prepare their case. 

According to Weber Law, a conviction or guilty plea can result in serious consequences, including jail time, a permanent criminal record, and fines. Understanding the stages of a criminal case can help defendants and prosecutors assert their rights. It can also allow them to establish a legal strategy for the case. As each case is different, the stages of the criminal case may vary depending on the specifics of the case. For example, if a defendant accepts a plea bargain or pleads guilty to the charges, there is no need for the case to go to trial. 


A typical criminal prosecution begins with the arrest of the suspect by a law enforcement officer. The arrest can be made under the authority of an arrest warrant, probable cause, or if the officer observes the person committing a crime. After the arrest, the suspect is booked and placed in custody. The suspect in custody may qualify for release on bail, but the suspect is required by law to appear in scheduled court proceedings. There are different types of bail bonds that the suspect can use.


The prosecutor must file charges to initiate a criminal case against the suspect. If the criminal charges are not filed, the suspect might qualify for unconditional release from custody. The prosecutor might have obtained an indictment from a grand jury for felony charges and might have to appear in court to establish probable cause.


The court will hold a hearing known as an arraignment to formally notify the defendant of the charges. The hearing will also allow the defendant to plead “not guilty” or “guilty.” The arraignment hearing is typically the first appearance of the suspect in court. The judge will set the dates for future legal proceedings for the case.

Pre-trial Hearings and Motions

There could be a series of pretrial hearings to monitor the progress of the plea negotiations and address issues related to evidence and other matters related to the preparation of the case for trial. If the defendant and prosecutor have agreed to a plea bargain, the judge may hold a hearing to consider the plea agreement.  


A defendant is entitled to get a jury trial; however, they can waive this right to have a judge adjudicate the case. There are several procedures of a trial, including the selection of a jury, opening statements, presentation of evidence, witness cross-examination, and closing arguments. At the end of the trial, the judge or jury will share their judgment on whether the accused is found guilty or not guilty of the case. The case can also be termed a mistrial if there were serious errors during the trial. In that case, they might need to restart the trial proceedings. 


In this phase of a criminal case, the court will determine the appropriate sentence or punishment for the convicted. The severity of the punishment depends on several factors, including the facts and circumstances of the case, the criminal history of the convicted, and any show of remorse by the defendant. In most cases, the convicted individual has the legal right to file an appeal to have a higher court review the case. 

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by Sushree Swagatika

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