Criminal Defense Procedures
For any person who has been arrested and accused of committing a crime, it is paramount to hire a criminal defense attorney who can guarantee that throughout the legal proceedings, the person’s rights are protected under law. For people accused of felonies, it is absolutely mandatory to ensure that they have competent and experienced attorneys. This is because if the defendant has been wrongfully accused, the attorney will do everything in their power to get them acquitted. Even in worst cases, a capable attorney can positively influence the sentence the defendant is handed down. In fact, even for misdemeanors and other simpler crimes like theft or assault, legal representation is crucial.
One of the first steps in a criminal case is that of an arraignment that is essentially an appearance in court. If the defendant has appointed their own attorney, the attorney will be present in court for the arraignment as well. If the defendant has not appointed an attorney yet or cannot afford one, the government will appoint one for him or her. At this point, the defendant chooses to plead guilty or not guilty or no contest. If applied, the bail is also set at the arraignment.
The next step in the criminal defense procedure is the preliminary hearing. Here, the prosecutor presents to the judge all of the evidence that they have so far collected to prove credible suspicion that the defendant did indeed commit the crime. If the judge is convinced that a strong suspicion exists, then the prosecution takes the case to the trial level. Alternatively, if the evidence presented is weak or the judge is not convinced of the suspicion of the defendant, then the charges are dropped and the defendant is free.
At this point, the defense party can decide to request trial by a judge or jury and sometimes, the prosecution can request trial by jury as well. At the federal level, juries are composed of 23 people while at the state level, juries can be composed of 15 people or fewer (sometimes around 6 people).
After this, there is a second arraignment at a higher level of court (Superior Court). The proceedings of this arraignment are more or less the same as that of the first one. Most often, the second arraignment is followed by pretrial hearing and motion which is an opportunity for both prosecution and defense parties to resolve any outstanding issues or demand evidence/documents from each other. At this point, both parties get an opportunity to settle if desired or ‘plea bargain’ the case. Sometimes, the prosecution or defense may request the judge to admit or exclude certain pieces of evidence before the trial starts.
Criminal Defense Strategy
Throughout the initial proceedings before the trial starts, your criminal defense attorney is busy examining all of the circumstances surrounding your case. He or she will evaluate the evidence presented against you and will use law and previous precedent to start building a strong case that proves your innocence.
The ability of your criminal defense attorney will hinge not only on their knowledge of legal proceedings but also of their investigative skills. Many times, there may be copious amounts of evidence present that can prove the defendant’s innocence and it is up to the defense attorney to use that evidence for your benefit. In certain cases, it may be possible that such evidence is lacking. In such situations, a capable attorney can thoroughly investigate to identify and locate hidden evidence or witnesses or any other mitigating factors that can strengthen your defense.
One of the first steps in the trial are the opening statements made by the prosecutor and the defense attorney. These statements briefly outline to the jury the facts of the case and what both sides hope to achieve by the conclusion of the trial. Sometimes, the defense attorney may use the strategy of reserving their opening statement until the point when the defense trial actually begins or they may not deliver an opening statement at all, leaving the burden entirely up to the prosecution to convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt.
The second step in the jury trial is the prosecutor’s presentation of their case including direct questioning of their witnesses. The defense may also ask questions of their own to these witnesses, a process known as cross-questioning. At this point, the defense has an option to motion to dismiss which is a request to the court to dismiss the charges because the prosecution (in their opinion) has failed to produce sufficient evidence. This motion is almost always denied by the judge because the jury may believe in the credibility of the charges and may wish to hear the defense’s case.
Then the defense party presents its main case including questioning their own set of witnesses which are then cross-examined by the prosecution. After this, the prosecution is given an opportunity to offer rebuttals to the defense’s case. Often, the prosecution and defense, along with the judge, determine a list of instructions to give the jury before deliberation. These instructions can be given to the jury at the beginning of the trial or right before they have to deliberate. Then the prosecution and defense offer some last words, known as closing arguments that sum up their case and their expected results.
The jury then sits together to deliberate and reach a unanimous verdict, or at least a decision on which the majority of the jury agrees upon. If the defendant is found guilty, the defense makes post-trial motions to request the judge to acquit the defendant or allow another trial. If the judge denies this motion, the sentence for the conviction (verdict of guilty) is read out either at this point or the sentencing is scheduled for later.