Overview of Criminal Cases
When faced with the daily dramas of real criminal cases, be prepared for proceedings that look quite a bit different from those portrayed on prime time television.
1. Criminal Investigations In state and federal cases throughout the United States, criminal investigations are generally orchestrated by prosecutors, police and other members of law enforcement.
2. Grand Jury Indictments Generally, there are two ways to press charges in a criminal case: (1) by the filing of a criminal complaint, sometimes called a statement of charges or a “criminal information”; or (2) in the form of an indictment returned by a grand jury.
3. Arresting the Accused Whether probable cause is established in a criminal complaint, or through a formal grand jury indictment, an accused is often arrested after the issuance of a formal arrest warrant.
4. Arraignments, Pleas & Plea Bargains After an accused is arrested, she is brought before a judge in a proceeding known as an arraignment. There, bail will be set and the lawyers may engage in plea discussions.
5. Preliminary Hearings In the federal system, prosecutors must generally persuade a grand jury that there is probable cause to indict a particular defendant with a specific crime. This process is used in state cases as well, but there are more instances in which defendants are charged with crimes in state courts without being formally indicted.
6. Pretrial Discovery & Investigation In the federal system, prosecutors must generally persuade a grand jury that there is probable cause to indict a particular defendant with a specific crime. This process is used in state cases as well, but there are more instances in which defendants are charged with crimes in state courts without being formally indicted.
7. Pretrial Motions Absent a plea deal, many cases involve pretrial hearings in which the prosecution and the defense lawyers bicker over the admissibility of evidence and the viability of the charges themselves.
8. Criminal Trials Absent a plea agreement or pretrial dismissal of the case, the accused must stand trial before a judge or a jury. To cover trials effectively, reporters must master the elements of a trial, appreciate the significance of each step in this process, and anticipate a variety of evidentiary objections.
9. Sentencing Following a guilty verdict, the accused may file motions to set the verdict aside or ask the court for a new trial based upon a variety of irregularities or evidentiary problems arising during the course of the trial.
10. Criminal Appeals If convicted, defendants typically seek relief from adverse judgments through two methods: Appeals and petitions for writs of habeas corpus.