What to Expect When You’ve Been Charged With a Crime: A Comprehensive Guide

Being charged with a crime can be a daunting experience, especially if it’s your first time facing the criminal justice system. It’s important to understand what to expect so that you can make informed decisions and protect your legal rights. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the criminal justice process from the moment you’re charged to the final resolution of your case.

The Arrest

The first step in the criminal justice process is typically an arrest, which can be a traumatic and confusing experience.

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When you’re arrested, you’ll be taken into police custody and taken to a police station or jail for booking. During the booking process, you’ll be asked to provide basic information such as your name, address, and date of birth, as well as being photographed and fingerprinted. You may also be searched for any weapons or contraband you may be carrying.

If you’re arrested at the scene of a crime, you may be questioned by the police about your involvement in the incident. It’s important to remember that you have the right to remain silent and to request an attorney. You should exercise these rights, as anything you say to the police can be used against you in court.

Also, if you’re arrested on a warrant, it means that the police have probable cause to believe that you committed a crime and have obtained a warrant for your arrest. You’ll be taken into custody and transported to the police station or jail for booking. If this is the case you’ll want to hire a lawyer, for example, if you’re being accused of theft you might search for theft lawyers in Bucks County or one local to you. Ideally, you will want to look for someone who is local to yourself as depending on where you are the laws and legislations may differ, meaning something may be a crime in one county and not in the next county over. 

And, in some cases, you may be released on bail after your arrest. Bail is a sum of money that you pay to the court as a guarantee that you’ll appear for your court date. If you can’t afford bail, you may be held in jail until your trial.

The Arraignment

After an arrest, the next step in the criminal justice process is usually an arraignment. An arraignment is a court hearing where you are formally charged with a crime and asked to enter a plea. The judge will read the accusations against you and ask you to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest during the arraignment. The case will go on to sentencing if you enter a plea of guilty or no contest. The matter will go to trial if you enter a not-guilty plea.

It’s important to have an attorney present at your arraignment to advise you on your plea and ensure that your rights are protected. Your attorney may also be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor, which could result in a reduced charge or sentence. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for you. In such cases, as the folks at  Wilkie Law Firm explain, it’s of the utmost importance to have a legal representative with experience and knowledge regarding the matter. At this point, you are facing a critical stage in the criminal justice process, as it sets the tone for the rest of your case. It’s important to take the arraignment seriously and to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.

The Discovery Process

Once you’ve been arraigned, the discovery process begins. This is where both the prosecution and defense exchange information and evidence related to the case. Your attorney will review the evidence against you and may conduct their own investigation to gather additional evidence or witnesses to support your case.

Plea Bargaining

By plea bargaining, a defendant, their counsel, and the prosecution work out an agreement in which the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to a lower charge and/or receives a reduced sentence in return for the dismissal of more serious charges and/or a harsher penalty. Plea bargaining can be a way to avoid a trial, which can be time-consuming and expensive. However, it’s important to note that plea bargaining can have consequences and should only be considered after careful consideration and with the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Plea bargaining can be a complex process, and an attorney can help negotiate the best possible deal for their client.

Pre-Trial Motions

Pre-trial motions are legal requests made by the defense or prosecution prior to trial.

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These motions can be used to request specific evidence, challenge the admissibility of evidence, or seek dismissal of the case. For example, a defense attorney may file a motion to suppress evidence that was obtained illegally by law enforcement. Pre-trial motions can be a powerful tool in shaping the outcome of a criminal case, as they can impact the evidence presented at trial and the ability of the prosecution to prove their case. It’s important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney who can identify and file appropriate pre-trial motions to help achieve the best possible outcome for their client.

The Trial

The trial is the formal process by which the court decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charges against them. During the trial, both the prosecution and defense present evidence, call witnesses and make arguments in front of a judge or a jury. The prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while the defense has the opportunity to challenge the prosecution’s evidence and present their own evidence in support of their case. The trial is a critical stage in the criminal justice process, as it is the defendant’s opportunity to defend themselves against the charges and to prove their innocence.

Sentencing

If you’re found guilty, you’ll be sentenced by the judge. This can range from fines and probation to jail time or even prison. Your attorney can advocate on your behalf for a lighter sentence, but ultimately, it’s up to the judge to decide.

Appeals

If you’re found guilty and believe that there were errors in the trial process or in the application of the law, you may be able to appeal your case to a higher court. Appeals can be lengthy and complex, but they offer a chance to have your case reviewed by a higher authority.

All in all, being charged with a crime can be a difficult and complex experience, but it’s important to understand the criminal justice process so that you can make informed decisions and protect your legal rights. Working with a skilled and experienced attorney can help ensure that your case is handled properly and that you achieve the best possible outcome.

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