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8 Phases of a Criminal Defense Case

Criminal defense cases typically develop in a series of phases beginning with an arrest and ending before, during or after trial. Most criminal cases today end when a defendant accepts a plea bargain offered by the prosecution. At this point, the defendant has plead guilty to the charges before trial in order to receive a lesser sentence or lower charges. The eight phases of a criminal case are:

  1. Arrest – A criminal prosecution often times begins with an arrest by a police officer. Once the arrest has been made and the police may transport the suspect to the jail and book them. For minor offenses, the police have the option of issuing a citation to the suspect with instructions to appear in court in a later date.
  2. Bail – A suspect may have to pay a bail amount in exchange for a release. This release also comes with a promise from the suspect that they will appear at all scheduled court proceedings pertaining to the alleged crime. Bail can be granted closely after booking or at a bail review hearing. A suspect may also be released on his own recognizance which allows for the suspect to forego the bail process, but must promise in writing to appear at all scheduled court proceedings.
  3. Arraignment – The arraignment is when the suspect makes his first court appearance and the judge reads the charges being filed against the defendant in the complaint. The defendant now has the option to plead “guilty,” “not guilty” or “no contest” to those charges. The judge then reviews any bail amounts and sets dates for future proceedings based on the suspect’s answer to the claims.
  4. Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury Proceedings – Both preliminary hearings and grand juries are used to create the existence of probable cause. If there are no findings of probable cause, the Defendant will not be obligated to stand trial. A preliminary hearing is a court proceeding where the Prosecution presents witnesses and the Defense cross-examines those witnesses. Both parties then make their specific arguments regarding the existence or non-existence of probable cause. The judge then makes the ultimate decision whether there is sufficient evidence to hold the Defendant to answer to the charges alleged. Grand jury proceedings are treated differently in that the grand jury only hears from the prosecutor and can call on their own witnesses. The grand jury then decides if there was enough evidence to indict the defendant.
  5. Pre-trial Motions – Pre-trial motions are brought by the prosecution and defense in order to establish what evidence and testimony will be admissible in court. This also helps resolve any final issues that may arise during trial.
  6. Trial – During this phase, the judge or jury will find the defendant guilty or not guilty. After listening to opening and closing statements, examination, cross –examination of witnesses and jury instructions, the judge or jury make the final determination of guilt or innocence. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict, the judge can declare a mistrial and the case will either be dismissed or a new jury will be chosen. If the defendant is found guilty, the court will sentence the defendant at a later date.
  7. Sentencing – The sentencing phase of a criminal case is where the court decides the appropriate punishment for the defendant. In order to reach a suitable sentence, the court considers a number of factors including: the nature of the crime, the severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, the defendant’s personal circumstances, and the degree of remorse felt by the defendant.
  8. Appeal – Any individual convicted of a crime may ask that his or her case be reviewed by a higher court. If there are any errors in the case or the sentence imposed, the court has the option to reverse the conviction or find that the case should be re-tried.

Having an attorney by your side is crucial during any criminal case. Make sure to find a criminal lawyer who has the experience to leverage your rights under the law. Committed to your defense The Law Offices of Michael A. Scafiddi in San Bernardino, Temecula and San Diego has been providing professional advocacy in various types of civil and criminal matters throughout Southern California. We provide legal services for criminal defense matters ranging from misdemeanor to felony offenses. Our office also handles Administrative Per Se hearings with the Department of Motor Vehicles for clients facing DUI charges. Call us today at 909-381-1000 to make an appointment.