If you have been accused of being involved in a crime, you’ll want to understand what’s going to happen next. There are numerous steps of a criminal investigation. A case must be investigated, built, taken to trial, and should the accused be found guilty, the penalties must be determined. Below we outline the first half of what happens following a crime. The second portion will be covered in a later post.
Following a Crime – the Pre-Arrest Investigation
A pre-arrest investigation is done following a suspected criminal activity. Once law enforcement is made aware that a criminal activity has occurred, they must investigate what happened before an arrest can be made. Following the investigation, if law enforcement determines evidence that reveals a crime was committed, they must make steps to try and identify a suspect. Once a suspect is identified, law enforcement may arrest the suspect. Depending on where the crime occurred, law enforcement might be required to first present evidence of the crime to a prosecuting attorney.
Typically a prosecuting attorney will determine whether and what charges to file against the suspect. When these charges are determined, law enforcement will then make an arrest. Sometimes an investigation will not yield strong enough evidence. In this case, it may be determined that there is no need to pursue the matter further. In these instances, no arrest will be made.
In an arrest is made, the accused will be taken into custody by law enforcement. An arrest can be made in the following ways:
1) If a law enforcement officer arrives at the scene of the crime and quickly determines there is probable cause for an arrest, the officer is able to take a suspect into custody immediately, or
2) A law enforcement officer is able to make an arrest pursuant (or in accordance) to an arrest warrant. The requirements for making a proper arrest and obtaining a warrant vary jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction and often depend upon whether the crime is a felony or a misdemeanor.
If You Are Arrested
If you are accused of a crime and arrested, it’s always advised that you hire a criminal defense attorney. An experience criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you on the best defense as well as protect you. If you are arrested, remain silent and ask to speak to a criminal defense lawyer. It is crucial that you remain silent and not say anything until you have received legal guidance.
Typically, after an arrest has been made, the accused must be brought before a court. During this initial appearance, the court will inform the accused of the charges he or she is facing. At this time, the court will also advise the accused of his or her rights to legal counsel and to remain silent. It’s possible for a defendant may be released at the initial appearance. Your chances of being released after an initial appearance can be greatly improved by working with a criminal defense attorney that knows the ins and outs of the legal process.
It’s important to note that not all jurisdictions have grand juries. Depending on the type of case being tried, it might not be required to go before a grand jury. A grand jury is a group of citizens that will hear the case and determine the outcome. This is the type of jury that is selected by people that are summoned to jury duty. These citizens are chosen via the jury decision process, during which they are sworn to secrecy. Following the hearing of he evidence, the grand jury will determine if a case should be indicted or dismissed.
A felony case is usually commenced by grand jury indictment or a preliminary hearing. If a case does go to grand jury, the prosecutor will go in front of a grand jury to ask the grand jury to indict an accused.
A felony case can also be commenced in a preliminary hearing. This hearing is held within a reasonable time of the filing of the information. If a case can be decided during a preliminary hearing, the defendant has the right to be present and to also be represented by his or her legal counsel. It’s always advised that a defendant obtain legal counsel for such situations, as the common person is not familiar with typical criminal proceedings.
At a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor and the defense attorney will present evidence in an attempt to establish or challenge if probable cause exists to believe a felony was committed, and also to determine if the felony was committed by the accused defendant.
Evidence presented can include testimony, including that of the victim. Often times limited discovery evidence is presented. The defense is also allowed to cross-examine any of the state’s witnesses, including the victim. If a court determines probable cause to believe a felony has been committed by the defendant, the defendant is “bound over” for trial.
Depending on the severity of the crime, a defendant can be released at this stage. Often times this is done following a determination of bail. This means that a defendant will pay a certain amount of money to ensure that they will return to court at a later time. This bail money is returned after the defendant returns to the court for trial.
A defendant may also be completely released at this stage if the court finds there is no probable cause to believe a felony was committed by the defendant. At that point the court dismisses the case altogether and the accused is released completely.
If charges are brought, either by the evidence presented or grand jury indictment (a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime), the defendant is arraigned. During an arraignment, the defendant is formally informed of the charges. The defendant also receives a copy of the indictment and the charges they are facing. At this point, the defendant will enter a plea in response to the charges. A plea bargain can also be made during arraignment. Even if a defendant chooses to not enter a plea, he or she may be released.
Discovery & Motion Practice
During the “Discovery” portion of the pretrial process, the prosecutor and the defendant exchange information and known material regarding the case. The discovery process is governed by each jurisdiction’s rules regarding criminal procedure. In many instances, a criminal defense attorney will be necessary to advise a defendant through what is or isn’t required of him or her. A criminal defendant actually has no constitutional right to discover information from the victim.
In addition to discovery there is usually considerable pretrial motion practice. This often stems from the discovery. The papers filed in court are actually called “motions.” So when papers are filed with a court, asking it to do something, that is called filing a motion. Motions filed by the defense include a number of things, including: motions to dismiss the indictment, motions to suppress evidence, or motions to introduce specific evidence at trial. Other motions are requests for reciprocal disclosure or requests for defendants to disclose alibi or psychiatric evidence. A criminal defense attorney is also able to bring motions that assert a victim’s rights, including motions to stop a subpoena, to protect a victim’s identifying information, or to preclude the press from hearings.
Plea Bargaining & Entry of Plea
A defendant may plead guilty pursuant to a plea agreement rather than go to trial. With a plea agreement, a defendant agrees to plead guilty to either the original charge, or to another charge, in return for a concession. Typical concessions include: 1) dismissal of other charges; 2) recommendation of a particular sentence, or agreement not to oppose defendant’s request for a particular sentence; or 3) recommendation for, or agreement on, another appropriate disposition of the case. Once a plea agreement has been reached between the defendant and the prosecutor, the plea will be presented to the court. Once presented to a court, one of the following three things will occur: 1) rejection of the plea agreement; 2) discussion of alternatives to the plea agreement that the court deems acceptable; or 3) acceptance of the plea agreement. If a court rejects the proposed plea agreement, the defendant is able to withdraw the guilty plea.
The process does not end here, and we’ll review what happens should a case proceed to trial in another blog.
Working with a Criminal Defense Attorney
As you can see, being accused of a crime is a very serious matter, and should be handled accordingly. An experience criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you on the best defense should you be accused of any number of crimes.
Any criminal charge could result in prison time, other serious penalties, and a criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life. The good news is that there is a defense to every charge or accusation. Contact our office in Los Angeles at 562-287-5333, at 562-287-5333 or by e-mail to discuss your case with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.