Beginning with an arrest and concluding at some point before, during or after trial, criminal prosecutions develops in a series of stages. These procedures guarantee that defendants may prepare their case with the legal help of a criminal defense attorney.
The following are the common stages of a criminal case:
- Arrest – The criminal prosecution process often starts with an arrest by a law enforcement officer. After the arrest, the police books the suspect and then place him or her in custody. If a suspect in police custody is granted bail, he or she may pay the bail amount in exchange for a release. Release on bail is contingent on the suspect's promise to appear at all scheduled court proceedings.
- Arraignment – Considered the first court appearance, where the judge reads the charges filed against the defendant in the complaint. The defendant must decide to either plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to those charges. In addition, the judge decides on any bail issues and sets a tentative schedule for upcoming court dates.
- Preliminary Hearing – The court may hold multiple pre-trial hearings to handle legal matters including scheduling and to monitor the progress of any conditions or services imposed on the defendant, as well as to monitor the progress of plea negotiations. In the event of a plea agreement, the court may hold a hearing to consider the agreement and the defendant's plea.
- Pre-trial Motions – Brought by both the prosecution and the defense, pre-trial motions are meant to resolve final issues and establish what evidence and testimony will be admissible at trial. If the defendant rejects the plea bargain, the case goes to trial.
- Trial – At trial, the judge or the jury will either find the defendant guilty or not guilty. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crimes charged. If the jury fails to reach a unanimous verdict, the judge may declare a mistrial, and the case will either be dismissed or a new jury will be selected. If a judge or jury finds the defendant guilty, the court will sentence the defendant.
- Sentencing – The court determines the punishment for the convicted defendant, considering various factors such as nature and severity of the crime, the defendant's criminal history, and the defendant's personal circumstances and his or her degree of remorse felt.