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Basic Steps in a Criminal Case

Criminal cases all have the same basic steps, but many different things can happen and most cases do not go through all the steps.

  1. Arraignment: at the arraignment, the defendant is assigned an attorney if he or she can’t afford one. The criminal complaint is read in court. This tells the defendant what the criminal charges are against him or her. The defendant then tells the court if he or she is guilty or not guilty. This is called the defendant’s plea. If the defendant pleads guilty, the defendant skips to the Sentencing step. If the defendant pleads not guilty to a felony, the case goes to the Grand Jury unless the prosecutor reduces the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor and/or violation.

  2. Pre-Trial: Before the trial, both sides exchange information called discovery. Either side can file pre-trial motions to ask the court for something in the case. Hearings are held on the pre-trial motions.

  3. Trial: the trial may be decided by a Judge or a jury. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

  4. Sentencing: After a conviction or a guilty plea, the court will decide the defendant’s punishment. This is called the sentencing.

During the case, both sides can agree to a Plea Bargain that settles the case.

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