While the end results of each criminal case are unique, the stages are typically the same. Of course, not all cases will follow these stages exactly, but the most common stages of a criminal case are:
- Arrest. This can occur on the scene of a crime, while a crime is being investigated, or under the authority of an arrest warrant. Following arrest, the booking process will begin with suspects accused of larger crimes being placed in custody and those accused of minor infractions typically being let go with a citation and instructions for their court appearance
- Bail. When a suspect is placed under custody, he or she may be allowed to post bail. Bail may be set at the time of booking or by the court during a separate hearing. In some cases, bail may be denied. In others, a person may be released on his or her own recognizance – a written promise to attend all hearings.
- Arraignment. The arraignment is the first hearing in a criminal case and gives the defendant an opportunity to plead “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.” No contest is not an admission of guilt, nor is it a claim to innocence. After the plea is made, the court will decide the next steps, which may include setting bail along with dates for future proceedings.
- Preliminary Hearing. At the preliminary hearing, counsel will question witnesses and both parties will have a chance to make arguments to the court. If probable cause can be established, the case will proceed. If not, the case will be dismissed and all charges dropped.
- Grand Jury Proceedings. In some cases, Grand Jury proceedings may take the place of a preliminary hearing. In these instances, the prosecution alone will present their argument to a jury who will decide if there is probable cause to proceed.
- Pre-Trial Motions. Brought by both the defense and prosecution, pre-trial motions establish what evidence will be allowed in the trial and resolve any final issues necessary for the case to proceed.
- Trial. During the trial, a judge or jury will listen to arguments and review evidence from both sides to determine guilt or innocence. Most defendants are guaranteed the right to a jury trial. If a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, a mistrial will be declared. If a jury can reach a unanimous decision, their verdict, just like one from a judge, will be the result of the case.
- Sentencing. Following a guilty verdict, the court will assess various factors including the degree of remorse, the criminal history, and the severity of the crime the defendant has been found guilty of. There is no longer mandatory minimum sentencing in Missouri. Illinois is working towards more judicial freedom in determining sentences as well.
Most cases never make it to trial. In fact, an estimated 90% of criminal cases end with a plea bargain, which typically results in a more lenient sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. In cases that do end in trial, appeals can be made by the defendant to try and have his or her sentence reduced or to have the case dismissed entirely based on new or excluded evidence.
Why You Need an Attorney
The process for a criminal case is both lengthy and complex. If you do not hire an attorney, you will be appointed a public defender who may be incredibly talented, but is absolutely overworked and will not have the time or resources to build a strong case on your behalf. In Missouri alone, 320 public defenders handled 80,000 cases in 2018. That’s more than 204 cases each. What chance does your case have in the hands of an attorney who may be simultaneously working on Several dozen others?
If you have been accused of a crime, you need a smart, effective, and tenacious attorney on your side who is ready and willing to fight for your rights. When you choose Brown & Brown, you are selecting an attorney who will work to resolve your case in the most favorable manner possible, all while taking time to explain the process to you and protect you against predatory tactics from prosecutors that may see you giving up your rights. Call us for a free consultation and let us help you understand your options.
To schedule a complimentary case evaluation, call our St. Louis office at 314-333-3333 or our Fairview Heights office at 618-888-8888 today. Brown & Brown works to protect the rights of men and women facing criminal charges throughout the St. Louis Metro area.