The Process – What Happens Next
1. “Arrest.” First you were arrested. This means that the police took you into custody and think you are guilty of a crime. Before the police are allowed to ask you any questions about any crime they think you might be involved in or have knowledge of, they are required to read you your “Miranda warnings.”
2. “Reading Your Rights.” At some point the police should have told you that you have a right to remain silent. That anything you say can be used against you and that you have a right to speak with an attorney. The police should have also told you that if you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided for you. It is important for your attorney to know when this happened.
3. “Booking.” After you are taken into custody the police will take your photograph and fingerprints.
4. “Arraignment.” Within 48 hours of your arrest you will be arraigned. This is where the prosecutor tells the court what you have been arrested for. At the arraignment, the judge only wants to know whether you plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. Usually, the judge you see at your arraignment is not the judge who will handle your case after that point. Telling your side of the story to the arraignment judge only helps the prosecutor. Your bail hearing may be held at the arraignment or shortly afterwards. Also, a trial date may be set. If a trial date is set, it may change (get further away) as events progress.
5. “Indictment.” After you are arraigned and learn what you were of oficially arrested for, the prosecutor will show all their evidence to a grand jury (similar to a regular jury.) This is an entirely one-sided proceeding. Neither you nor your lawyer are allowed to participate. If the grand jury believes there is enough evidence against you, it will issue and indictment against you. The indictment (silent “c”) is the formal charge or charges against you.
6. “Discovery.” After there are formal charges against you, you have a right to see all the evidence that the prosecutor has including questioning witnesses. This process may take several months. Towards the end of the discovery period your lawyer and the prosecutor may begin to negotiate or bargain the charges against you. This is called “plea bargaining.”
7. “Plea Bargaining.” Plea Bargaining may start at any time, but generally, your lawyer will wait until he or she sees all the evidence against you. Plea Bargaining may continue sometimes until trial. Be aware that in many cases there are sentencing laws that control how long or shot a sentence may be imposed for any given type of crime. Your lawyer cannot change these guidelines but he or she may be able to negotiate a different type of charge or fewer charges which carries a lesser sentence.
8. “Trial.” If the grand jury hands down an indictment and your lawyer is unable to negotiate a plea with the prosecutor, there will be a trial. In a trial, the prosecutor goes first and tells their whole case to the jury, witnesses for the prosecution are heard and evidence against you is presented. After the prosecutor is finished, your lawyer will tell your side of the story. Your lawyer will get the chance to question each of the prosecutor’s witnesses and each item of evidence presented against you. Your lawyer may use any one of a number of different strategies to defend you at the trial. This will all be discussed in further detail at a later date if your case reaches that point.
9. “Sentencing.” If the jury finds you guilty it is up to the judge to determine what your sentence will be. The sentencing usually happens a few weeks after the trial ends.