What Happens When A Person is Charged With A Crime?
Learn about the criminal process, and your rights after you're arrested.
By Chris Hinson
Certain constitutional protections apply to a person charged with a crime. There are also certain procedures that are roughly the same from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The following is a brief description of what happens when a person is charged with a crime.
Talk to a Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately if you or someone you know have been arrested or charged with a crime. Getting legal help is critical to ensure a defendents rights are protected.
A person may be charged with a crime before they are arrested. If this happens, a judge will issue a warrant for the person's arrest. A police officer will attempt to locate the person who is the subject of the warrant. If the person is located by the police and arrested, the police must give the person a copy of the warrant that states the charge for which they are being arrested. The police do not necessarily need to have a copy of the warrant with them at the time of the arrest, but they should provide a copy to the arrested person within a reasonable amount of time afterward.
After a person is arrested, they will be "booked" at the police department. This entails taking fingerprints and completing other procedural requirements. The person will then be held in police custody pending a court hearing. This hearing will usually take place within 48 hours.
When a person is taken into police custody, they have the right to speak with an attorney. The person will be allowed to contact an attorney. The person should have at least a brief opportunity to meet with their attorney before their initial court hearing.
At the court hearing the judge will read the charges against the person, who is called the defendant. If a person was arrested without an arrest warrant, this may be the first time that they are told the charges against them. The judge will try to make sure that the defendant understands the charges. The judge will then ask the defendant to enter a plea. A defendant can enter a plea of "not guilty", of "no contest", or of "guilty".
Even if a defendant is guilty, they can enter a plea of not guilty, if they think that there is not enough evidence to prove their guilt. In any case, a plea of not guilty will lead to a trial where the government will have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty of the crime that they are charged with.
A jury will have to decide, based on the evidence presented by both sides, whether the defendant is to be found guilty or not guilty. In some cases, a defendant may waive their right to a jury trial, and the judge will be the one to decide if they are guilty or not guilty based on the evidence that is presented. The defendant should consult with their attorney about whether or not they should waive their right to a jury trial.
If the result of the trial is that the defendant is found not guilty of the crimes charged, they will be released from custody. If the result of the trial is that the defendant is found guilty or if there is no trial because the defendant entered a plea of no contest or of guilty, then there will be a sentencing hearing.
There may be evaluations of the defendant that are performed prior to the sentencing hearing. For example, if the crime is DWI, the defendant may be evaluated to determine if they have a substance abuse problem. The court will also make a pre-sentencing report, which is basically an investigation into any prior criminal history of the defendant. This information helps the judge determine an appropriate sentence.
At the sentencing hearing, there may be an opportunity for individuals to speak to the court about what factors they feel the court should take into account in determining a sentence. These individuals can include the victim of the crime, the victim's family, the defendant, the defendant's family, and any other interested party.
The judge will consider all of the evidence presented and take into account any sentencing requirements. The judge will then enter a sentence for the defendant. If the crime was relatively minor, and the defendant has been in custody during the whole court process, they may have already served the jail time that is imposed by the judge. If the crime is more serious, the defendant may face even more jail time. A criminal sentence may involve more than serving time in jail as well. The defendant may be ordered to pay fines, to give restitution to the victim, to undergo treatment for substance abuse or mental problems, to perform community service, or many other things.
Anyone who is charged with a crime should hire an attorney with experience in criminal defense to represent them. This is the best way to make sure that their rights are protected, and that they obtain the best possible outcome.