After an arrest, there is a long process that leads to the actual trial. This process can be very overwhelming and confusing, with a list of appearances and dates. Though a lawyer can walk you through the process, there may be situations where this information will be helpful before legal counsel is obtained and particularly if a public defender is being utilized, as they traditionally have large case loads, and may not have sufficient time to detail the process.
After an arrest, the first court appearance is called the arraignment. If a person is bailed out of jail, they will be required to go to court in the near future for this hearing, and if still in custody, a person will be taken to court within 48 hours. Appearing before a judge, the defendant will hear the charges and be asked to offer a plea. It is essential to remember that a plea of “guilty” or “no contest (not disputing charges)” cannot be reversed. If there is any desire to fight the charges or hope for a reduction, the plea will be “not guilty,” and this plea can be changed at later date. It is also at this point that bail could be increased, reduced or a release of recognizance (a release secured by a signed promise to return to court) could be granted.
DISCOVERY AND MOTIONS
The next step leading to trial is discovery. In this phase, the prosecution and defense exchange information. This is where having a lawyer will benefit the defendant, as legal counsel can access all of the evidence, while the defendant might not. After discovery, each side can file any motions they decide necessary. Here is where the plea can be changed, a plea deal can be arranged, or a dismissal can be sought. The prosecution, defense, and judge will determine if resolution can be reached without trial.
If the case moves to trial, it will then be in a jury’s hands. This jury will be selected and vetted by both sides to ensure an unbiased group of peers. Both sides will present evidence to prove innocence or guilt, but guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant is found “not guilty,” it is called an acquittal, and the defendant is exonerated. Once found “not guilty,” the defendant cannot be tried again, known as the “Double Jeopardy Clause” of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. If the jury cannot decide or if there is an error in the tail, a “mistrial” can be ruled and the trial will begin again with a new jury. The last possibility is guilty, here the judge will offer a sentence, including probation, fines, or prison. If found guilty, it is possible to appeal.
Throughout this entire process there are a few suggestions that can be seen as “best practices” to show the reverence and respect these situations demand.
– Wear professional clothing to all court appearances. Shirts with ties, or suits/dresses or pantsuits are best. However, business casual is acceptable.
– Always be respectful to officers of the court.
– Stay out of further trouble. This one goes without saying, but do not get in any further trouble, as it will only make the situation worse. Bail could be revoked and jail could be revisited.
– Keep track of all court appearances and if one cannot be made or is missed, contact all necessary parties immediately. That would include: the court, the bondsman, the defense attorney.
November 1, 2015 / Ryan Serey