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Criminal Process: After You Have Been Arrested

After someone is arrested there are several steps before they have a criminal record or go to jail.

1. The Arrest:

The police arrest someone based on probable cause that the person has committed a criminal offense.


2. Filing the Complaint:

The police provide reports and evidence to the prosecuting attorney (district attorney, city attorney, U.S. Attorney, etc.). The police do not file charges. Theprosecuting attorney then decides whether or not charges should be filed . If they determine charges should be filed, then it is the prosecuting attorney who decides which charges will be filed. The prosecuting attorney files the "Complaint" with the court, which sets forth the allegations against a criminal defendant.


3. Arraignment/First Appearance:

At the arraignment, a criminal defendant is formally advised of the charges and his/her constitutional rights . Bail is often set during the arraignment. Bail is used by the court almost like an "insurance policy" that the criminal defendant will appear on future court dates.

The amount of bail is determined by the judge . The judge evaluates a criminal defendant’s risk of flight and potential danger to the community. Bail amounts can range from being released on one’s own recognizance to millions of dollars. In some cases bail is denied.

Many criminal defendants use bail bonds services to post the money needed for bail. Bail bonds services allow the criminal defendant to pay only a small percentage of the required bond to the bond company and the bond company pays the full amount on behalf of the criminal defendant. 


4. Preliminary Hearing:

Preliminary Hearings are held to review probable cause . This is necessary for the judge to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the charges against a criminal defendant. During the Preliminary Hearing, additional charges can be added and/or the bail amount can be adjusted.


5. Arraignment in Superior Court:

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 the criminal defendant is facing at trial. The criminal defendant is formally advised of the charges and constitutional rights, and the criminal defendant enters a plea such as not guilty.


6. Pre-Trial Conference:

At the pre-trial conference, the defense attorney discusses the case with the prosecuting attorney . This is a good opportunity to speak with the prosecution in order to obtain the best possible deal or plea-bargain. It also allows the defense attorney to provide information which may prove the criminal defendant’s innocence. The prosecuting attorney may reduce the charges against the criminal defendant based on information presented by the criminal defense attorney.


7. Trial:

During the jury trial a criminal defendant is 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 its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt . If the jury finds that the criminal defendant is not guilty, the defendant is free to go and not subject to further criminal prosecution based on the same offenses. OJ Simpson’s criminal trial is a good example of this, but keep in mind he still had to face a civil case.


8. Sentencing:

If a criminal defendant is found, guilty then the defendant must face sentencing at a court hearing. The sentencing hearing is where the judge determines and imposes the appropriate punishment based on sentencing guidelines . Different crimes carry different possible penalties. The criminal defendant may be sentenced to probation instead of a term in state prison. The criminal defendant is entitled to a sentencing hearing to propose why he or she believes the judge should give him or her the lowest possible penalty.


9. Collateral Consequences:

In addition to any sentence imposed by the court, a criminal 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, and/or increased penalties for future convictions. Criminal convictions can also haveimmigration consequences .


10. Appeals & Writs:

If convicted, the criminal defendant may file an appeal to an appellate level court based on the argument that the trial court made legal errors . The appellate court may reverse the conviction if the defense can prove that the trial court made legal errors, or the defendant was denied due process of law or a fair trial.


11. Parole:

Parole is a conditional release from prison which entitles the defendant to serve the remainder of the term outside of prison. However, the defendant is still under the supervision of the department of corrections.


12. Expungement:

Expungement is a process where, in some cases, a conviction may be removed from the criminal defendant’s record .

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