Stages of a Criminal Case


If law enforcement suspects you of committing a crime, or catches you in the act, your case will proceed along a typical route from the initial arrest to either conviction or release. You may be wondering what the next few weeks or even months look like for your case, especially if you’ve never been accused of a crime previously. Here is an outline of the stages most cases go through.

Stage 1: Arrest

Most criminal cases begin with an arrest. A law enforcement officer can arrest you if he or she observes you committing a crime, the officer has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed by you, or the officer makes the arrest with the authority of a valid arrest warrant (typically granted by a court judge). The arresting officer will take you to the police station and book you, after which they will place you in custody. If you are accused of a minor crime, the police might issue a citation to you with instructions to appear in a court at a later date. However, if you’re accused of a more serious crime, you may remain in police custody until you can post bail.

Stage 2: Bail

If you are granted bail, you can pay the bail amount in exchange for release. It is usually a significant sum of money designed to ensure your presence at all major court dates. You will be released as long as you promise to appear at all scheduled court proceedings, and it may be granted to you immediately after booking or at a later bail review hearing. Alternatively, you could be released on your “own recognizance.” Your own recognizance means you don’t need to post bail, but you do need to promise in writing to appear at all your scheduled court appearances. The court will consider the seriousness of the offense, your criminal record, your potential threat to the community, your ties to family in the area, and your employment status.

Stage 3: Arraignment

You’ll make your first court appearance at your arraignment. During this hearing, the judge will read the charges filed against you in the complaint, and you can choose to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the accusations. The judge will also review your bail and set dates for future proceedings.

Stage 4: Preliminary Hearing/ Grand Jury Proceeding

The government can bring criminal charges against you either through a bill of information secured by a preliminary hearing or by grand jury indictment. Federal cases must be brought by indictment, but states are free to use either process. Both proceedings are used to establish the existence of probable cause. If they don’t find any, you will not be forced to stand trial. During a preliminary hearing, counsel will question witnesses and both parties will make arguments. The judge will then make the ultimate finding of probable cause. If you’re in a grand jury indictment, the jury will hear only from the prosecutor. The jury may call their own witnesses and request further investigations into the crime be made. The jury will then decide whether sufficient evidence has been presented to indict you.

Stage 5: Pre-Trial Motions

Pre-trial motions are brought by both prosecutor and defense attorney before a judge to resolve final issues and establish what evidence and testimony will be admissible at trial. If any evidence was gathered illegally by law enforcement during the case, this is the time when the defense lawyer will ask that such evidence be excluded from the trial. The importance of the motions will depend on the kind of case, the severity of the charge, the strength of the prosecution’s case, and other factors. A successful pre-trial motion can set the course of a trial if done correctly. A defense attorney can even be granted a Motion to Dismiss, because of a lack of jurisdiction, evidence, settlement before trial, or other reasons.

Stage 6: Trial

At the trial, a judge or jury will either find you guilty or not guilty. The prosecutor will bear the burden of proof in a criminal trial, meaning it is his or her job to prove you are guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. You have a constitutional right to a jury trial in most criminal matters, and the jury will make the final determination of your innocence or guilt after listening to opening and closing statements, examination of witnesses, cross-examination of witnesses, and jury instructions. If the jury can’t reach a unanimous verdict, the judge might declare a mistrial. After a mistrial has been declared, either the case will be dismissed, or a new jury will be picked. If you are found guilty, you are sentenced.

Stage 7: Sentencing

If you are found guilty, the court will determine the appropriate punishment for your crime. The court will consider several factors, including the nature of the crime, the severity of the crime, your criminal history, your personal circumstances, and the degree of remorse you feel. Some crimes will have mandatory minimum sentences, which means a judge will be obligated to sentence you to a certain number of years in prison despite your circumstances.

Stage 8: Appeal

You do have a right to appeal the decision made by the court. Appeals involve a higher court looking at the case and determining whether or not the court that sentenced you made any errors. The court might reverse the conviction or find the case should be re-tried.

If you’re concerned about how your case might go, the best course of action would be to discuss your circumstances with a skilled Memphis criminal defense attorney. the Law Office of Stephen R. Leffler, P.C. is a firm committed to effectively communicating with our clients and listening to their specific concerns. We pride ourselves on our ability to sympathize and understand the stress that you and your family might be going through. If you have questions about your case, let us answer them. Our skilled attorney can offer you reasonable fees for excellent representation. We also have more than 30 years of combined legal experience to offer your case. Let us see what we can do for you in a case consultation.

Call us at (901) 509-9112 or fill out our online form to get in touch with us today.

Related Posts
  • Drug Paraphernalia: Legalities and Implications Read More
  • The Role of Eyewitness Testimony in Assault Cases: Debunking Common Myths Read More
  • Questions to Ask Your Criminal Defense Attorney Read More