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Stages of a Criminal Case

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If you are facing criminal charges, you may wonder what to expect next. Each state has a criminal justice system in place to hold people who may have committed crimes accountable for their actions. The purpose of this system is to uphold defendants’ constitutional rights to fair and speedy trials, as well as maintain consistency between cases. A criminal case follows a number of specific stages to reach a conclusion, ending with sentencing or an appeal.

#1:  Arrest, Booking, and Bail

The first stage of a criminal case is the arrest process. This arrest may occur during a traffic stop, a police call, or the execution of a warrant. The police should read your rights during the arrest, such as the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

Next, the police will take you into custody and begin the booking process. They will take your fingerprints, conduct a background check, and photograph you. A judge may grant bail depending on the circumstances of your case, and you may leave jail once you post bail or remain in a cell. You have the right to contact your attorney at any point during this stage.

#2: Arraignment

Your first court appearance will be your arraignment. During this hearing, a judge will read you the charges against you and ask you to enter a plea. You can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest; your attorney will advise you on which pathway to take prior to arraignment. You may also learn of your future court dates at this hearing.

#3: Pre-Trial Hearings, Plea Bargains, and Motions

After arraignment, you will enter a series of pre-trial processes that will influence the outcome of your case. Your lawyer will begin investigating and building your defense at this stage and may also file pre-trial motions to exclude certain pieces of evidence or testimony. You may also attend a preliminary hearing, where the prosecutor will try to convince the judge that there is enough evidence to prove that a crime occurred and that you likely committed it.

Many criminal cases do not reach the courtroom, with defendants accepting a plea bargain prior to trial. Depending on your case, you and your attorney may enter plea bargaining to attempt to reach a more favorable verdict.

#4: Criminal Trial and Sentencing

If your case does not reach a conclusion during pre-trial proceedings, you will enter the courtroom. During a criminal trial, a judge and jury will listen to evidence from both parties, and the jury will need to determine whether or not you committed the crime. After the jury deliberates, you will learn whether the court finds you guilty or not guilty. The judge will provide guidance to the jury on how to approach your case.

The court will then determine the appropriate punishment if the jury finds you guilty. This may include jail time, fines, mandatory community service, and other penalties, depending on the crime. You may attend a separate sentencing hearing. You may also request an appellate court to review your case and either affirm or reverse your conviction or remand your case for retrial.

Contact an Attorney for Assistance

During each stage of a criminal trial, you need someone to advocate for your side of the story. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer to represent your best interests is an important investment for your future. Your attorney can help you understand the penalties levied against you, how to approach each stage of your case, and the optimal pathway toward the best possible outcome. If you have not done so already, contact a criminal lawyer in Tacoma to discuss your arrest.

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