Despite the many hours we spend many of us do not know the exact procedures involved in a criminal law case. The process can seem complicated but it is quite simple grasp once you understand the basic steps involved. Listed below are 7 hacks for understanding how a criminal law case works.
1) Know the difference between a Criminal and Civil Law Case
The first step to understanding how a criminal law case works is to understand the difference between criminal and civil law. Criminal and civil law cases differ in procedure from the how the case is started to how the case is tried. Examples of criminal charges would be murder and theft. Essentially, a criminal case is one which the action is determined to be offensive to the public, even if there is only an individual victim. Conversely, a civil law case occurs when an injury occurs to an individual. Examples of civil law charges would be breach of contract and fraud. For a detailed explanation, refer to this article on the differences between civil and criminal law.
2) Understand the Miranda Rights
“You have the right to remain silent”. We’ve heard this many time in movies and on TV shows. But what does it actually mean? The Miranda Warning (or Miranda Rights) is afforded to every person on the moment of arrest. It protects the detainee against self-incrimination and affords the right to representation by an attorney, regardless of the ability to pay. Enacted in 1966, this law is a requirement for every arrest and if it is determined that a suspect was given or did not understand his or her Miranda Rights, a criminal case can be dismissed. This article provides detail on the pivotal federal case that created the precedence for detainees rights upon arrest.
3) First Arraignment
During the arraignment, several important things happen. First, the accused is read his or her constitutional rights. After an attorney is appointed, the charges are read to the defendant and he is allowed to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. After the plea, a judge has the choice to determine a bail amount or release the accused on his own recognizance. Finally, a date for the defendant’s first court appearance is established.
4) The Preliminary Hearing / Grand Jury Proceedings
A defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing within 10 days of arraignment. The purpose of this hearing is to review the charges to see if they are valid. During the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor presents evidence to prove that a crime has been committed and that the defendant should be prosecuted. If the evidence presented does not meet the standards of the court, the charges against the defendant are dropped, according to Wampler & Souder, LLC.
5) Pre-Trial Motions
After the preliminary hearing comes the part where pre-trial motions are heard. During this phase, both the prosecution and defending attorneys confer to establish the rules of the trial. There may be a dispute over the types of evidence may be admissible during the trial or who will be allowed to testify. These disputes are resolved during this phase of a criminal law case.
6) Second Arraignment (Trial Court)
The second arraignment happens in trial court. During this proceeding, the official charges are read and the defendant enters a plea. During this phase, the defendant’s attorney has the chance to disclose which motions will be entered on behalf of the defendant. This is also the time in which options are discussed to determine if the case can be settled without having to go to trial.
7) Jury Trial
The Jury Trial is the final phase of a criminal law case. During the initial part of this phase, a jury is selected after both the defense and the prosecution has had the opportunity to interview all of the potential jurors. Once the jury has been selected, the teams for the prosecution and defense present their evidence before the court. After closing arguments, the jurors are giving a chance to deliberate the evidence presented to before the court to determine a verdict. On the determination of a guilty verdict, a sentence is handed down.