Being charged with a criminal offense can be an overwhelming experience. Regardless of what the details of the crime are, the order of events is relatively consistent. Hiring a criminal defense attorney as soon as you are arrested is the most important step, especially since they can guide you through everything that is to come. Here is a quick and dirty version of those events.
- All criminal charges begin with an arrest, though not all arrests result in criminal charges (also known as an indictment). The police create an arrest report (which summarizes the details of the arrest and the events leading up to it) and forward it to the prosecutor, who then decides to either:
- File a complaint with a trial court, setting forth the charges
- Go to a grand jury
Prosecutors usually have to file within three days, so it’s possible for your charges to change significantly as time passes.
Grand juries decide whether or not charges should be brought in the first place rather than deciding the guilt or innocence of a person at trial. If the prosecutor elects to use a grand jury trial, they will present evidence, and the grand jury will return its verdict on whether or not charges should be brought and what charges those should be. If the grand jury decides to indict, your case moves to trial. If they do not, the prosecutor still has the opportunity to collect new evidence, find a new grand jury, or simply continue to file charges anyway (in which a preliminary hearing must be held and the prosecutor must demonstrate to the judge that the state has enough evidence to warrant a trial).
The trial takes place. The events of each trial vary based on the crime and your personal history, but your criminal defense attorney will be with you every step of the way.
Crime is no stranger to the United States; in fact, there are more Americans with criminal records today than the entire U.S. population in the year 1900. Your criminal charge doesn’t determine the end of your professional or social life. If you can find an experienced criminal defense attorney, the frightening process can become a lot more manageable. And, with the Internet being as accessible as it is, figuring out how to find a criminal defense lawyer is easier than ever.