The Process of a Criminal Defense Case

The unthinkable has happened, and you or a loved one is facing criminal charges. You’re not alone: over 10 million arrests are made in the United States each year.

When you’re in this situation, it’s important to have a plan of action. That said, it can be difficult to know what your next steps should be when you aren’t sure what’s ahead of you.

To help you navigate the difficult legal terrain, here are five things to plan for in a criminal defense case.

Seeking Legal Counsel

No matter what stage of the process you’re currently in, there are resources available to help you along the way.

Whether you feel you may be arrested soon or you’ve already been charged, it’s crucial to get in touch with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to maximize your chances of winning your case.

Your defense attorney will help you assess your options, prepare you for what to expect in the courtroom, provide resources toward your defense, and advocate for you in the public sphere.

Arrest and Arraignment

It’s a common misconception that a case is closed once an arrest is made. In fact, the arrest is typically only the beginning of a criminal case, and in no way means that a future indictment is set in stone.

After making the arrest, police transport the defendant to the local station or jail where they will await arraignment.

During the arraignment, the defendant appears briefly in court to make their initial plea and hear the bail amount. At this point, the defendant can also request court-appointed legal counsel as needed.

Pretrial Meeting

Before going to trial, the prosecution and defense meet to set forth any necessary pre-trial motions and go over details of the case together.

During this meeting, a defense attorney may attempt to strike a plea deal with the prosecution. In fact, ninety to ninety-five percent of criminal cases never actually make it to trial as a result of plea bargains made in this stage of the process.

Depending on the circumstances, accepting a plea bargain may be the defendant’s best option, as it would allow them to opt for a commuted sentence and avoid a potentially traumatizing or unnecessary trial.

The Trial

Only a minority of criminal defense cases make it to this point. However, if the defendant is unwilling to accept a plea bargain or if no bargain is proposed, the case moves before a jury and the trial begins.

The timeline of the trial can vary from one day to a couple of weeks, but all criminal court proceedings in the U.S. follow the same general format:

  • Jury selection
  • Opening statements from both sides
  • Cross-examination of witnesses and submission of evidence
  • Closing statements from both sides

Afterward, the jurors meet to discuss whether they believe the defendant was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Remember: the prosecution has the burden of proof, so this must be satisfied in order to make a conviction.

If the jury cannot come to a unanimous decision, the judge declares a mistrial and the prosecution may attempt to retry the case or drop it entirely.

If the defendant is found guilty, the judge hands down a sentence, which the defendant then has the right to appeal in a higher court of law.

Moving Forward With Your Criminal Defense Case

While this article provides a basic outline of the steps in a criminal defense case, it isn’t a comprehensive guide.

If you haven’t already, reach out to a criminal defense attorney to work together on a personal strategy and to learn more about your options and legal rights as a defendant.

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