When a citizen is believed to have broken the law, the state may attempt to charge and punish the person. The procedure that state uses to punish them is called a criminal case. Criminal trials are the standard method for a broad range of offenses, and several different outcomes can occur through them.


A person charged with a crime will not always go to trial. The state or prosecuting attorney can elect to drop charges for several reasons. Some of these reasons include:

  • The victim of the crime the state accused you of does not press charges against you.
  • The victim refuses to help or participate in the case.
  • The prosecutor does not have enough evidence to prosecute.

A person that has their charges dropped will receive no conviction. However, the charges will stay on their criminal record. The process to have charges taken off a criminal record is known as expunging them.


It is unadvisable to plead guilty unless advised to by your lawyer. Your Columbia criminal defense attorney will often advise you to plead guilty so that they and the prosecution can work out a plea bargain. Once they have settled on an agreement, a hearing will be scheduled to discuss the guilty plea.


For a plea bargain to take effect, you will often need to plead guilty during your court arraignment. During your hearing, you will also be required to confirm your guilt under oath. That entails:

  • You admit that you performed the action that the court is charging you.
  • You testified under oath that you understand the charges and that you know what the guilty plea means.
  • You waive your right to a trial by jury.

Entering a guilty plea means you are responsible for the sentence that the court agreed on. The severity of your punishment could vary significantly depending on what crime you are being charged.

The procedure of taking a plea bargain is similar to pleading guilty under normal circumstances. The difference is that your sentence is what your attorney agreed to during the plea meeting with the prosecutor. The plea bargain is put on the record at a public hearing. A plea agreement requires you to confirm your guilt under oath as well. A judge may look over the plea bargain and adjust the sentence as they see fit. They often make those changes based on the severity of the crime and the fairness of the plea deal. Like pleading guilty, in a plea bargain, you agree to the sentence the court decides for you.


Pleading not guilty at your arrangement is essentially you challenging the prosecution to prove your guilt with their admissible evidence. You will then go trial, and both your attorney and the prosecution will have the opportunity to argue for or against you, and a judge or jury will then decide if they believe you did it without a shadow of doubt or not.


If the judge or jury find you guilty after you have pleaded not guilty, you will receive a date for your sentencing. At the sentencing, a judge will determine what sentence is most appropriate for your charges. They make their decision based on state guidelines, the nature of the crime you have been found guilty of, your current criminal record, and several other factors.

Most sentences include jail time, fines, probation, and community service. However, the court does have alternatives. For example, the court may sentence someone to a course of drinking and driving after they have been charged and found guilty of drinking under the influence. It is possible to appeal a guilty verdict, although doing so may not always make sense. If there is any reason to, your attorney can start the appeal process.


If you are found not guilty at your trial, you will be released from custody immediately. You may attempt to expunge the charges from your record as well so they are not part of your record for the rest of your life. You are also free from being tried for the same crime.


A trial may end in a mistrial. A mistrial is where for any reason, a trial is not able to be concluded. Your attorney or the prosecution can make a motion for a mistrial, but it is ultimately the judge’s choice to grant or deny the motion. If the trial ends in mistrial, it is possible for the prosecution to retry the case, but they must do it in a manner that avoids you facing double jeopardy.