While no two cases are the same, the logistics of dealing with criminal charges generally follow similar patterns. These days, fewer and fewer cases actually end up going to trial, but at Ascheman Law, we understand that preparing for trial from day one leads to the most successful outcome. Even if the case does not go to trial, such preparation often allows for more successful negotiations and a better outcome for our clients.
There are many steps to a trial and the process can often be overwhelming and confusing. This is why it’s important to seek out a defense attorney who is willing to help you through the process. At Ascheman Law, we are here to help you understand not only the process but your rights as you go through the process.
The following steps are just the basics of how a criminal proceeding would take place. For information more specifically tailored to your case, give us a call today at 612-217-0077 to set up your free initial consultation.
Step One: Arrest
Typically one’s criminal proceeding experience will start with his or her arrest. A police officer must have probable cause to arrest a person, meaning they cannot just think that someone has done something wrong. A police officer may also arrest someone with a warrant approved by the court.
NOTE: It is important to keep quiet during the arrest and to immediately contact a criminal defense attorney. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court, it cannot and will not be used for your benefit. Even though many cases settle, it is always important to be thinking about the potential for trial and preparing for it every step of the way. This includes not giving the prosecutors any information that they could use against you.
Step Two: Booking
After the arrest, the person will be taken to a county or city jail where they will be booked. This includes taking finger prints and photographs, and getting data such as your name and birth date. You will be searched and your personal items will be catalogued. Police officers may ask you a series of questions, but your Constitutional rights protect you from having to answer these questions. You have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. [you have the right to remain silent before the arrest as well]
Step Three: Bail Hearing
If the person who was arrested remains in jail, then the next step is for them to go in front of the judge. The judge will then decide if the person is a flight risk or a danger to society. When deciding whether or not the person is a flight risk, the judge will look to factors such as family and business ties to the community. If the judge decides that the person is not a flight risk or a danger to society, then the person will be released after paying bail and making the promise that he or she will appear in court later. Under the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, a defendant must be given a bail hearing within 36 hours of his or her arrest.
Step Four: Arraignment
The arraignment can either take place at the same time or after the bail hearing. This is when the person, now known as the defendant, is formally charged for their alleged crimes. This is also the time where the defendant will enter in their plea. If you have not had a chance to retain an attorney yet, the best thing to do is to plead, “not guilty.” If you plead “guilty,” there will be no trial and the next step will be sentencing.
The arraignment can often be a lengthy process and you probably won’t be the only person in the court room being formally charged. However, if a person who has been released on bail does not show up for their arraignment, then the judge will issues a warrant for their arrest.
Step Five: Plea Bargaining
A plea bargain is where the defendant pleads guilty to the crime in exchange for a specific sentence. Sometimes the plea bargain can be a better outcome than the defendant would otherwise be facing. Only an experienced, knowledgeable attorney, presented with all the facts, can help you determine if it’s a good offer. This bargain can only be made if the defendant agrees. It is important to consult with an attorney during this phase as a guilty plea can have very serious consequences on you for the rest of your life.
If no plea bargain or other agreement can be made with the prosecution side, then the case will go to trial and both sides will start their discovery. This is not the last chance to negotiate a settlement. An attorney can continue to negotiate with the prosecution, even into trial.
Step Six: Discovery
Discovery is the phase of the trial where your attorney works to put together your case. The defendant’s attorney will make a formal request to the County or City Attorney’s Office, who must then give all documentation they have relating to the defendant’s case over to the defendant’s attorney. These documents typically include transcripts, police reports and any videos or tapes made during the initial investigation of either the defendant or witnesses. This is also the phase where the defendant’s attorney will determine if an investigator or expert witness might be needed to find more information.
Step Seven: Settlement
Following discovery is the phase where attorneys are most likely to reach a settlement between the defense and the prosecution. This is because the two sides have done immense amounts of research. They now have a better idea of who has the stronger case and how the case will turn out if no settlement is reached and it goes to trial.
Even though at Ascheman Law we always prepare our cases assuming it will end up at trial, there are many benefits to settlement. Often, the prosecution will propose a settlement deal if they do not think their case again the defendant is very strong, they are not prepared, or they don’t want to risk losing to your defense attorney. Such settlements are similar to a plea bargain in that it can allow the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge or face less serious punishment. Sometimes the settlement can also present alternative forms of punishment. For example, in an alcohol related case, the defendant may agree to go to a treatment facility instead of serve jail time. Another alternative example would be for licensed professionals. Being able to plead guilty to a lesser offense may allow them to keep their license.
Settlements can be difficult to negotiate, but with a skilled attorney on your side like those at Ascheman Law, the outcome can be much more favorable than going to trial.
Step Eight: Trial
If no settlement was reached, then the case will go to trial. A defendant has a choice of whether to have a court trial or a jury trial. If the defendant waves his or her right to a jury trial, this must be done in open court and on the record. In this case, the judge will then decide the defendant’s fate. If, however, the defendant chooses to proceed with a jury trial, the number of jurors will depend on the seriousness of the offense. If the charge is for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, the defendant has a right to a six-person jury. If the charge is for a felony, then the defendant has a right to a twelve-person jury.
There are many steps to a trial and a trial may take a day or it may take a week depending on the severity and number of charges. Typically, the trial starts with opening statements from attorneys from both the prosecution and defense side. An opening statement is where the attorneys introduce the case to the judge and/or jury in the way that they see it.
Following the opening statements, the prosecution side will then present the evidence it accumulated during the discovery process. The prosecution will do this by questioning its chosen witnesses in front of the judge and jury. After the prosecution questions each of its witnesses, the defense attorney will have the opportunity to cross examine. This is done in an attempt to disprove things the prosecution’s witness has said or at least poke holes in their story to make them look less credible to the jury. Once the prosecution has called all of their witnesses, it will then rest its case.
At this point, the defense may make a motion to dismiss all charges against the court. This means the defense attorney is asking the judge to throw out a claim under the notion that the prosecution failed to present sufficient facts to establish probable cause that the defendant committed the alleged offense. This motion is rarely granted, but if granted, the case can be closed entirely and the defendant may walk away free.
If the motion to dismiss is denied by the judge, then the defense will continue with its portion of the trial. This is where the defense, as the prosecution did earlier, presents the evidence it accumulated during discovery. This is done by presenting and questioning its own witnesses in front of the judge and jury. The prosecution will have a chance to cross examine each witness after the defense has finished its questioning. Once all witnesses have been presented, the defense will rest its case.
After the defense rests its case, the prosecution gets one more chance to present evidence to refute arguments made by the defense. This is called a rebuttal. At this point, the prosecution may not present any new evidence. Therefore, this portion of the trial is generally very short and up to the discretion of the judge.
Once the prosecution is finished, both sides will get to make their closing arguments. Typically, the prosecution will summarize its evidence and explain why the judge or jury should find the defendant guilty and the defense will also summarize its evidence, but explain why the defendant should be acquitted (found not guilty).
The judge will inform the jury as to which laws govern and how they are to deliberate. Depending on the criminal offense, where it took place and the circumstances of the offense, the law that governs could either be state or federal. Each set of laws have their own rules for how criminal trials should be conducted. Many times, federal courts deal with Constitutional issues, such as the guarantee of due process and equal protection under the law. These procedural rules exist to protect the defendant, and to ensure a just and speedy trial. However, it is always important to have a criminal defense attorney like Ascheman Law on your side to make sure the rules are followed accordingly and to be sure your rights are protected.
The jury may deliberate for as long as they see fit. In Minnesota, if the jurors cannot come to an agreement, it will be known as a hung jury, which results in a mistrial and the case must be retried.
If the jury decides that the defendant is in fact guilty, then the judge will be the one to impose a sentence. The sentencing phase may immediately follow the jury’s verdict or may be set for a later court date. When deciding a sentence, the judge may take into account the laws requiring certain penalties for crimes, information provided by the victims of the crime and evidence the defense has provided as reason to hand down a less severe punishment.
Step Nine: Appeal
Every convicted defendant has a chance to appeal his or her case at least once. This is when the defense will request to a higher court to review the decision made by the lower court. It is not a retrial. Most often in an appeal, the defense will claim that the lower court made some sort of legal error(s) during or before the trial proceedings. Such legal errors may include mistakes with the jury instructions, allowing inadmissible evidence, lack of evidence to support a guilty verdict or juror misconduct. If the Court of Appeals finds that there is an error, it may choose to modify the ruling or reverse the entire decision or part of the decision. It also has the option to send the case back to district court to remedy the errors.
Why call Ascheman Law?
If you are facing a criminal charge, it is important to know how the system works to protect your rights, to know what your options are, and the pros and cons of each and every choice. At Ascheman Law, that’s what we do.
We offer free consultations so that you don’t have to fight alone. The best thing you can do is take the time to sit down with a trained criminal defense attorney and talk about your case. Call us today at 612-217-0077. You’ll be glad you did!
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