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What are the stages of a criminal case?

For people who are facing their first criminal charge, the entire process can seem very complicated. There are several things you should understand if you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor. Having some knowledge will help you to feel better prepared.

The process through the criminal justice system can sometimes begin before your arrest. In some situations, like when the case concerns an alleged white collar crime, there is a lengthy investigation prior to the actual arrest. Remember these basics if you are a defendant in a criminal case.

When is an arrest made?

A law enforcement officer can arrest you if he or she witnesses you committing a crime. Some arrests result from grand jury indictments. Arrest warrants are necessary sometimes, depending on the circumstances.

What happens after an arrest?

Once a person is arrested, a report is sent from the police department to the prosecutor. The information in that report is used to determine how the prosecution will proceed with the case. There are three courses of action that can occur:

  • The case might be dropped.
  • It may be presented to a grand jury.
  • Charges can be filed in criminal court.

The time between an arrest and the prosecution's decision can be short. Typically, this occurs within two to three days.

Prosecutors have a lot of discretion when it comes to how a case will be handled. Department policies can have an impact, as can the prosecutor's beliefs regarding the law and, unfortunately, any political aspirations that he or she might have.

Will charges remain the same throughout the case?

Criminal charges can change over time because prosecutors receive new information. Because of the short time frame allowed between the arrest and the filing of charges, they may not be able to review all the specific points of the case.

Sometimes, charges change due to a plea deal. Many defendants choose to enter into a plea deal to resolve their charges. This prevents the case from going through a jury trial and often results in a much faster conclusion.

Plea agreements

Defendants may work out terms that include pleading guilty to a less serious charge than the initial one. It is up to each person facing charges to decide if this is their preferred resolution method. However, it's thought that people who aren't guilty of a crime shouldn't accept a plea arrangement since it requires a guilty or no contest plea. Obtaining legal advice is critical in making good decisions about a charge.

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