WHAT TO EXPECT IN A CRIMINAL TRIAL
Criminal trials are a stressful and harrowing experience, specifically when jail time is a possible outcome of the case. However, understanding the criminal process can make it seem more manageable and can help you adequately prepare for the ordeal.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I GET ARRESTED?
The first step in a criminal trial is almost always an arrest. If a law informant officer has “probable cause,” or a good reason, they do not require a warrant to arrest you. Police do usually need a warrant to arrest you in your home, however. A warrant is a document, signed by a judge, that allows officers to detain you, even in your home. The warrant will often explicitly state the crime you have been accused of, as well as the amount of money your bail will cost. The amount of the bond depends on the severity of your crime, as well as your “flight risk” or the likelihood you will leave town.
The process of arresting and booking someone may take several hours. Your rights, once you have been arrested, are:
- Remaining silent.
- Being told that what you say and do can be used against you in a court of law.
- Speak with an attorney and have them with you during all police interrogations.
- Make one or more phone calls after a time from your arrest.
- Be assigned a lawyer to you if you cannot afford one.
You can be held in custody for a certain amount of time before the state officially charges you for your crime. The time limit is often 72 hours. From there, your attorney’s office and prosecutor’s office will receive your arrest records. The prosecutor will then decide which crimes to charge you with. They may not choose anything to charge you with, although that is uncommon. They will then file a complaint against you. The complaint is the official charging document.
INITIAL HEARING OR ARRAIGNMENT
Once the prosecutor has officially filed a complaint against you, an initial hearing will be set up. The initial hearing also often involves an arraignment hearing where you are charged with a crime. The hearing often takes place within 48 hours after your arrest and is short.
At the hearing, the judge will explain and detail:
- The charges the state is bringing against you.
- Your rights that the constitution grants you.
- Your right to a court appointed a lawyer if you cannot provide one for yourself.
- The amount of your bail.
- The next step in the criminal process, such as the date of your next court appearance.
Some states will also have the arraignment at the same time as the initial hearing. The arraignment is where the accused enters their plea to the charges brought against them. Three types of pleas you can make are:
- Not guilty You contest that you have not done the crime the court has charged you. Pleading not guilty can smart because it may get you a better plea bargain, or force the trial if you believe the state does not have enough evidence against you.
- Guilty You admit to doing the crime. The judge will immediately give a conviction if you plead guilty.
- “Nolo Contendere” or no contest You do not admit to the guilt of the crime, but you also are not disputing the charge. This plea is wise for defendants in civil lawsuits where admission of guilt could prove damaging.
PRELIMINARY HEARING AND DISCOVERY
Once the initial hearing is over, some states will hold a preliminary hearing. The goal of the preliminary hearing is for the state to show that they have enough evidence to prosecute the defendant. Some states may have an actual hearing for the preliminary hearing, or they may just complete the process on paper. If the state proves it can meet its burden of proof, the judge sets a date for a trial.
Before the date of the trial, the state prosecutor and your criminal defense attorney in Columbia will exchange information and evidence. The time for lawyers to share information is called a discovery. Your attorney and the prosecutor can also discuss a plea bargain. In a plea bargain, you plead guilty, and the state will reduce the charges or punishment.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A TRIAL
A pretrial is done just before the trial. Your attorney or the prosecutor may file several different kinds of motions during this time. Then it is time for the trial.
The process of a trial has seven stages. They are:
- “Voir Dire” A jury is selected.
- Opening statements Both sides present and outline their arguments.
- Presentation of evidence and witnesses The state calls for its witness and shows its evidence. The defense can cross-examine the witnesses that the state calls up. Once the state has presented, the defense then may call its witnesses and evidence.
- Closing arguments The attorneys try to summarize their arguments and attempt to emphasize their points one last time.
- Jury instructions and deliberation The judge gives the jury instructions on the law and instructs them on how to reach a verdict. The jury then leaves to review and debate the evidence.
- Verdict If the jurors can reach a unanimous decision, they will return to the courtroom and give a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If they return a not guilty verdict, the defendant has been cleared and is free to go. A guilty verdict moves the trial on to the
- sentencing phase.
Sentencing A judge may give you your punishment, or set another day to pass judgment.
You may appeal if you entered a plea of not guilty at your arraignment and you lost your trial. Your case will go to a higher court, and they will decide to reopen your case or leave the standing decision in place.
To receive the best possible outcome for your case, you want an aggressive criminal defense lawyer in South Carolina on your side.