The Criminal Justice System: What happens if you are arrested?
The Road through Due Process
If you are arrested, you go to jail, and depending on the charge, you may spend a few hours in jail (most misdemeanors) or at most 48 hours in jail (most felonies), before you are arraigned. It is the law, that you must be arraigned within 48 hours of your arrest, but there are some loop holes in that law. Obviously, courts aren't open on the weekends or holidays. So, if you are arrested for a felony on the Wednesday before thanksgiving weekend and you don't bail out, your 48 hours begin on that Wednesday but are paused over the weekend and continued after, so you may not be arraigned until Monday or Tuesday. You may also get a different arraignment date, weeks later, if you bail out or are cited out.
Then, the arresting police agency has the duty to further conduct an investigation against you and report it to the City/District Attorney (the Prosecution). The Prosecution then decides, based on the investigation conducted, what criminal charges to officially file against you. The Prosecution may also decide not to file charges against you if, for example, there is a lack of sufficient evidence, the police conducted an illegal search and seizure, your case needs further investigation, etc. If the Prosecution rejects it, it could be the end of the road for the case, although they do have a year to re-file the case if they find more incriminating evidence.
At the arraignment, the prosecution will provide your lawyer with a copy of the “complaint” which details the criminal charges filed against you. At the arraignment you will likely enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A “guilty” plea is when the defendant accepts the charges filed against them and faces sentencing. A “not guilty” plea is when a defendant does not accept the charges and plans to fight the case. A “no contest” plea is virtually the same thing as a guilty plea but it cannot be used against the defendant in civil court. At the arraignment you can ask the judge for a reduction in bail or for the judge to release you on your own recognizance, or “O.R.”.
If you decide to plead “not guilty,” then your journey through the criminal justice system will continue. If you haven't bailed out or been released by that point, then you would remain in custody. This is the point where you would need an attorney to defend you. You have the right to be represented free of charge by a court appointed attorney (public defender) or you may hire your own attorney to represent you. Your case does not automatically go to trial. For weeks and maybe even months, your attorney will argue and negotiate with the Prosecution to agree to reduce or drop the charges against you for a resolution without having to go to trial.
Preliminary Hearing in Felony Cases
If you are charged with a felony, you have the right to a preliminary hearing. During a preliminary hearing, the prosecution must present evidence (testimony and/or physical evidence) demonstrating it is more likely than not that you are responsible for the crime charged. This is a hearing in front of the judge, who will ultimately determine whether or not there is enough evidence to hold you over for trial. The preliminary hearing is your attorney's first opportunity to poke holes in the prosecution's case, present any applicable defenses, and convince the judge that there isn't enough evidence against you. If the judge decides to dismiss the case, you win! However, the DA still has a year to gather more evidence and re-file the case. If the judge determines the prosecution has met their burden, then the criminal trial process begins.
Through the process of the preliminary hearing, the true strengths and weaknesses of a case are often revealed. Therefore, even if the judge holds the defendant over for trial, the true bargaining between the defense attorney and the prosecution begins.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you do not have the right to a preliminary hearing.
Sometimes, the defense attorney and the district attorney are unable to work out a plea agreement that is satisfactory to both sides. If that is the case, there will be a trial (similar to what you see on TV and in movies). During trial, the Prosecution goes first and will present their case against you in front of a jury. Your defense attorney's must demonstrate all the discrepancies in the Prosecution's case. The Prosecution's job here is to prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, they must convince 12 people that, absent the unreasonable, you are the one that committed the crime you are charged with. If there is a strong possibility that you might not be the perpetrator of the crime, then there is reasonable doubt present. Thus the jury must rule in your favor: Not Guilty!
Once all of the evidence is reviewed, all of the witnesses have testified, and all of the points of the case are argued, the jury must deliberate. There are three possible scenarios for a verdict on each criminal charge: guilty, not guilty, and a hung jury. Upon a finding of not guilty on any one charge, you cannot be retried under the Double Jeopardy Clause. Upon a find of guilty, you have the right to appeal and to petition the judge for a new trial. If the jury cannot unanimously decide, they are “hung”. Thereafter, the defendant may or may not be retried depending on the specifics of the jury split and the Prosecution's decision whether to move forward.
If a defendant is found guilty on one or more charges, he/she will be sentenced by the judge. Before sentencing, both the defense attorney and the prosecution will likely submit a memorandum petitioning the judge to render the fairest sentence. The sentence rendered by the judge is highly subjective and dependent upon the skills of the lawyers involved as well as the gravity of the crime demonstrated during trial.
Get the Best Result Possible.
Despite our ideals, the outcome of your case is highly dependent upon the skills of the attorneys involved and that is why you need a criminal defense attorney with the proper experience and pedigree, like Meital Manzuri, to be on your side for any criminal case against you. Meital Manzuri is a dedicated federal and state criminal defense attorney who defends those accused of all crimes. Manzuri recently had a victory in a complex attempted murder case and also several drug possession and possession for sales cases. A large portion of our practice focuses on fighting law enforcement violations of the constitution, marijuana law, medical marijuana business counseling, DUI defense and drug possession and sales. With substantial experience handling search and seizure issues, Meital Manzuri has consistently succeeded in the suppression of evidence unlawfully obtained by police officers.
Disclaimer: This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice.