THE CRIMINAL PROCESS EXPLAINED
The criminal process starts when someone allegedly breaks a law, and continues through the arrest, booking, arraignment, trial and appeal. It is a complex and confusing process and this information explains the process and its jargon in the simplest terms possible.
Warrants are issued by a judge or other court officer who finds probable cause for an arrest. The warrant directs the police to arrest the person named in the warrant. An arrest without a warrant occurs when a police officer has probable cause to believe a person has committed or is about to commit a crime. Click for more information on warrants.
Arrest is the action by which a person is stopped from his normal activities by virtue of a legal authority or sanction, either by detaining him or by stopping his external accesses. By an arrest, a person is deprived of his liberty. The Fourth Amendment in the Constitution governs arrests, and when arrested, individuals have certain rights. So the law contain many provisions like requirement of a warrant, adherence of Miranda rights, arraignment within the statutory limit etc.
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. is the Supreme Court decision that created Miranda Rights. They are an explanation of a suspect's rights that the police must give before any "custodial interrogation." The Miranda warning is, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense."
After arrest, a criminal suspect is usually taken into police custody and "booked," or "processed." During booking, a police officer typically:
(Note: persons arrested for minor offenses may merely be given a written citation and released, after signing the citation and promising to appear in court at a later date.)
After an arrest, a preliminary hearing may be conducted. Witnesses and/or police officers are usually subpoenaed to appear at this hearing. At that time the Magistrate Court Judge listens to the testimony to determine whether there is probable cause for the case to go to a higher court; i.e., State or Superior Court.
Felony cases only) The 23 citizens on the Grand Jury hear testimony and review evidence relating to the crime. They determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring an indictment to trial. If an indictment is returned (True Bill), the case goes to the Superior Court for trial. If the Grand Jury decides not to return an indictment, the case is "no billed." This hearing is done in private. Neither the defendant nor his/her attorney is present.
The arraignment is where the defendant responds to the grand jury indictment or the prosecutor's bill of information. Several things typically happen at the arraignment, including:
At the arraignment the defendant also learns if he or she will have to remain in jail until the trial. The defendant will either be released "on recognizance," the court resets bail, or the court does not set bail.
Bail (SOMETIMES CALLED BOND)
Bail (sometimes called a bond) is money or other property deposited with the court as a promise the defendant will appear in court when required. Judges use several factors in setting the bail amount, including the seriousness of the crime, the defendant's ties to the area, and the defendant's wealth. If the defendant fails to appear in court when required, the money or property posted as bail may be lost.
More than 90 percent of all federal and state criminal cases do not go to trial. This is because prosecutors and the defendant's lawyer strike a deal over what the defendant will agree to plead guilty to and the sentence the prosecutor will recommend. Once a plea bargain is made, the judge's role is mainly to ensure all laws and constitutional guarantees have been followed.
If the defendant does not agree to a plea bargain, the case will proceed to trial. The U.S. Constitution guarantees people charged with a crime the right to a speedy trial. How fast a trial must begin is usually set by state law. This often ranges between one and two months from the time the defendant is arraigned. The defendant can also waive his or her right to a speedy trial in order to gain more time preparing a defense.
Georgia judges use sentencing guidelines when deciding on the final sentence.
For all federal and state trials, everyone has a right to appeal a felony conviction. An appeal is typically based on a mistake of law made during the trial (for example, evidence was admitted that should have been excluded). The mistake must have been a "reversible error," meaning it is serious enough that it would have affected the verdict of the judge or jury. If the appeal succeeds, it is likely (but not always) that a new trial will be held.