Steps in a Criminal Case
Basic Criminal Case Steps
Step 1: Arraignment
The first step in a criminal case is a court appearance called an arraignment, in which the charges against the defendant are read before a judge. At an arraignment, a lawyer is appointed if the defendant cannot afford one, and the defendant’s plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest) is entered. Bail may also be set at the arraignment.
Step 2: Preliminary Hearing
The arraignment is followed by a preliminary hearing, in which a prosecutor presents evidence to a judge in an attempt to show that there is strong suspicion that a person committed a crime. If the judge is convinced that a strong suspicion exists, the defendant is ‘held to answer,’ and the prosecution proceeds to the trial court level. If the judge does not agree that the prosecution has demonstrated ‘strong suspicion,’ the charges are dropped.
Step 3: 2nd Arraignment (Superior Court)
Fourteen days after the defendant is ‘held to answer,’ he is arraigned in the trial level court of the Superior court. This hearing is the same procedure is the first arraignment.
Step 4: Pretrial Hearing & Motions
A motion is a request asking a judge to issue a ruling order on a legal matter. The pretrial is a hearing to resolve outstanding issues and it is often an appropriate time to attempt to settle or ‘plea bargain’ the case.
Step 5: Jury Trial
Both the prosecution and defense present evidence and call witnesses, in front of a judge and a twelve-member jury. The jury will examine the evidence and return a verdict. The judge will interpret the verdict for sentencing, according to state law.