Felony Criminal Case Process
How the Process Begins
Crime Observed by Police
Crime Reported to Police
If a defendant has been arrested and put in jail, he or she can "bail" out of jail after signing a promise to appear in Court at a specific time on a specific day.
If a defendant has not been arrested and the County Attorney has filed charges, the County Attorney will also file a Criminal Summons with the Court and serve the Summons on the defendant. The Summons orders the defendant to appear in Court at a specific time on a specific day.
A defendant's first Court hearing is called an Initial Appearance. At this hearing the Court explains the charges filed against the defendant, addresses the issue of bail, and determines whether the defendant is going to hire his or her own attorney or if the defendant qualifies for a public defender to represent the defendant.
At a waiver hearing the defendant informs the Court whether he wants to have a Preliminary Hearing or not. If the defendant wants a Preliminary Hearing the Court sets a date and time for the Preliminary Hearing. If the defendant waives the Preliminary Hearing, the Court will set a Trial date and a Pre-trial Conference Date.
At a Preliminary Hearing, the State, through the County Attorney, is required to present enough evidence to convince the judge that a trial is warranted. The amount of evidence required at this hearing is less than that required at a trial. If the judge believes the State has provided sufficient evidence, he or she will bind the defendant over and the defendant will be arraigned. If the State has not provided sufficient evidence, the judge may dismiss the charges against the defendant.
If a defendant is bound over, the next appearance is an "Arraignment." The arraignment can be held at the end of the preliminary hearing or scheduled for a different day. At the arraignment, the defendant pleads "guilty" or "not guily." If the defendant pleads "guilty,' the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing. If the defendant pleads "not guily," the judge will set the case for trial.
If the defendant believes that certain evidence ought to be suppressed, he or she may request a Suppression Hearing. In a Suppression Hearing the State puts on its evidence through the state's witnesses. The defense may or may not put on evidence. The defense attorney will usually write a memorandum, called a Motion to Suppress, in which the defense attorney will explain why the defendant believes evidence should be suppressed. The County Attorney will have a period of time to respond with his own Memorandum. The Court will then make a decision based on the evidence and arguments brought out in the Suppression Hearing and the Motions and Memoranda from both sides.
During pretrial conferences, the County Attorney, defence attorney, defendant, and judge discuss any pretrial issues that need to be addressed prior to trial.
The Trial is where the prosecution is required to prove the defendant's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." Most defendants request a jury trial. Some waive the jury trial and have a "bench trial" instead. At a "bench trial" the judge acts without a jury and decides, based on the evidence, whether a defendant is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt" or not. At a jury trial, the judge presides and makes decisions about the admissibility of evidence. The judge also instructs the jury about the law they must apply in making their decision about whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If a defendant is found "not guilty" he or she is free to go and the criminal justice process ends. If a defendant is found "guilty," the judge schedules a "Sentencing Hearing."
In felony cases, sentencing hearings are usually scheduled 45 days after a defendant is found guilty. Adult Probation and Parole will conduct an investigation, interview the defendant, any victims, and other interested parties. The probation officer will then prepare a "Presentence Investigation Report" in which the probation officer recommends a particular sentence.
Victims have the right to be heard at the sentencing hearing. The defense attorney may or may not make arguments in the defendant's behalf. The prosecution may or may not make arguments as well. After hearing from the parties, the judge sentences the defendant. The judge may or may not follow Adult Probation and Parole's recommendation.
A defendant can be sentenced to jail, prison, or probation. Depending on the crime, prison sentences can be from one year to life. Defendants are usually ordered to pay fines and fees. They may be required to get alcohol and/or substance abuse evaluation and treatment, anger management counseling, and other conditions that the judge imposes as part of the sentence.
Probation and Order to Show Cause Hearings
If a defendant is sentenced to probation, he or she is required to follow the terms of probation set by the court. Such orders may include such things as refraining from contacting the victim, refraining from drinking alcohol, paying restitution, etc. If a defendant fails to obey the terms of probation, he or she can be brought back to court for an "Order to Show Cause" hearing where the defendant has to explain why he or she has not complied with the terms of probation. The judge can impose more conditions, give the defendant jail time, or send the defendant to prison.