Criminal Court Proceedings: The 8 Step Process Explained

Everything You Need to Know About the 8 Step Process for Criminal Court Proceedings

Criminal court proceedings are a little bit different from civil court proceedings. And, that means that there are some different things to expect. It’s always a good idea to first speak with a reputable criminal lawyer as they’re your best bet when it’s time to go to court.

If you’re getting ready to go through criminal prosecution, it’s important to understand the different stages and how each of those stages can affect you. 

Step 1: Arrest

The first step in a criminal prosecution is the arrest. Typically, a police officer will either bear witness to a crime or have probable cause to believe that the crime was committed. Sometimes, the officer may make an arrest using a warrant, which will allow them to book the suspect and place them in custody. 

Depending on the severity of the crime, the police officer could issue a citation which instructs the suspect to a court date that is further in the future. 

Step 2: Bail

In some cases, suspects may be granted bail. That means that the suspect can pay a set bail amount to be released from custody. However, it’s not that easy! In order to be released the suspect must promise to appear at the scheduled court proceedings. 

On top of that, bail can be either granted once the suspect is taken in or it can be granted at a review hearing. Occasionally, suspects are released based on a promise in writing to appear at court proceedings. In these cases, the court will examine the criminal record, the threat to the community, and the seriousness of the offense before granting a release. 

Step 3: Arraignment

Arraignment is the process in which a suspect makes a court appearance. The judge reads out the charges that are filed against the suspect, who can choose to plead either guilty or not guilty. The judge will then make a decision based on the plea and the defendant’s bail.

Step 4: Preliminary Hearing

After the arraignment, a preliminary hearing or examination is arranged which brings a suspect before a counsel. The suspect and witnesses are then questioned by the council and the lawyers make arguments for the defendant and the plaintiff. 

During a preliminary hearing, the grand jury will only hear from the prosecutor and may call their own witnesses or request additional investigations. They decide whether enough evidence has been given for them to indict the defendant. 

Step 5: Pre-Trial Motions

This is a very straightforward part of a criminal court proceeding. During pre-trial motions, both parties agree on what evidence will be brought forward at the final trial.

Step 6: Trial

The trial is the core of the criminal court proceeding. This is when the prosecution brings forward proof to the judge that the suspect is guilty. The prosecutor needs to prove that the defendant is guilty of the charges they supposedly committed. 

Federal law allows for all criminal trials to have a jury, which will help to make the final decision as to whether the suspect is guilty or innocent. Throughout the process, the judge will listen to both opening and closing statements by the attorneys will examine and cross-examine the witnesses, and listen to the jury’s verdict. 

Occasionally, the jury does not unanimously agree. When this occurs, the judge can declare a mistrial and either dismiss the case or bring forward a new jury. 

Step 7: Sentence

The sentence is the phase during a court proceeding during which the court decides whether the defendant will be found guilty or not guilty.

Step 8: Appeal

The appeal is the final phase of a criminal court proceeding and is the time during the trial when the defendant can request a review of their crime. If they feel that the verdict is unfair, they can have it taken to a higher court or potentially have the punishment reversed.