The Criminal Trial
The Sixth Amendment specifies certain citizens' rights that apply in all criminal trials. These rights are speedy trial, public trial, trial by jury, notice of the accusation, confrontation of opposing witnesses, compulsory process for obtaining favorable witnesses and assistance of counsel. Although the Sixth Amendment guarantees these rights only with respect to the federal government, the U.S. Supreme Court has incorporated all of them so they apply to the states as well as the federal government. The many legal procedures associated with modern criminal trials have developed over centuries. States and the federal government follow a largely uniform set of procedures. Assuming that the criminal trial is carried out to completion, those procedures are as follows: 1. Arrest.
Law enforcement personnel investigate reports of criminal activity, gather evidence, make arrests, and present the evidence to the prosecuting attorney. Based on the investigation, police or the sheriff may decide that: a crime has not occurred as defined under state law, there is insufficient evidence to pursue the complaint, or one or more persons may be arrested and the matter referred to the prosecutor. Any person arrested must be released within 24 hours unless a warrant is issued for an arrest (NOLO, 2012). 2. Initial Appearance.
This must occur within 24 hours of arrest. At this appearance, the charges are read and the judge makes sure the defendant understands his/her rights. Judge makes sure the defendant has an attorney if he/she qualifies for legal assistance. The judge also sets the date for the next step, the preliminary hearing at this time. Judge sets bail, if no bail amount was named in arrest warrant. If the case is a domestic violence one, judge will order no contact order. 3. Preliminary Hearing.
Felony cases begin with a preliminary hearing — a proceeding in which testimony is taken under oath. The defendant may waive a preliminary hearing, and the case usually will be sent directly to circuit court for trial. If the defendant chooses to proceed with a preliminary hearing, the judge, defendant, defendant’s attorney, prosecutor, and any victims or witnesses subpoenaed will attend. The prosecutor presents evidence to show the judge that there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that it was committed by the defendant. The defense attorney can cross-examine the state’s witnesses and produce evidence. If probable cause is established, the judge will order the defendant to be bound over for trial. If the judge decides that probable cause has not been established, the court dismisses the case and the defendant is released. This also may occur if witnesses fail to appear to testify. In some cases the prosecutor can later file another complaint against the defendant, based on the same crime. At any time, the prosecutor may decide to voluntarily dismiss the charges (NOLO, 2012). A person can be grant bail pending trial on personal recognizance if the judge is assured the person will show up for court. If a preliminary hearing is held and the defendant is bound over for trial, bail is discussed at that time. For grand jury indictments, bail is addressed at the defendant’s arraignment. The judge may release the person on bail by imposing any number of conditions as specified under state law. Release on bail is not available for “capital offenses” where the accused is subject to punishment by death. 4. Arraignment.
This is the first formal presentation of charges to the defendant, who must enter a plea. Also, the judge can raise or lower the defendant’s bond. The arraignment is open to the public. After arraignment, an assistant prosecuting or circuit attorney is assigned to the case (for larger prosecutor offices). In some cases, the same prosecutor will be assigned from the onset and the case is added to a judge's docket. The...
References: Law Firms. (2012). The Process of Criminal Trials. Retrieved from
NOLO. (2012). Criminal Trial Procedures: An Overview. Retrieved from
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