What to Expect From the Criminal Justice Process

Nobody plans to get arrested, but it happens to people every day. A lot of them are very scared and uncertain about what’s going to happen; many of them don’t know what to expect of the criminal justice system. Here, in brief, are the main things you need to know about.

1. Miranda rights

Other than handcuffs, this might be the best-known step of the arrest process. These rights should be read to you by the officer that arrests you. They include your right to remain silent and your right to have an attorney.

2. Lawyer up

As stated in the Miranda rights, every American has the right to an attorney when arrested. But we all know that lawyers can be expensive, and not everyone can afford to pay one. That is why, if you cannot afford a lawyer, you will be appointed a public defender by the court system who will assist you with your case. You can, of course, waive your right to an attorney and represent yourself, but this is not a wise road for the average person to choose.

3. Arraignment

This is where the accused enters an official plea to the court: the options are guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If the accused enters a plea of guilty or no contest, he or she is immediately sent to a sentencing hearing to determine what punishment will be exacted for committing the crime. Most of the time, though, the accused enters a plea of not guilty.

4. Bail

Assuming you plead not guilty, bail is set next. Bail is money paid to the court to ensure that the accused will actually show up at future court hearings. Many people seek the services of a bail bondsman at this point — a person who puts up the money for the accused and makes sure the person attends the court dates.

5. Pre-trial

Most of the cases in California’s justice system are resolved at this stage. The process may include motions, negotiations, and plea bargains. Many people are sentenced at this point and don’t continue on.

6. Trial by jury

For suspects who go to a full trial, the attorneys will select jury members, offer opening statements, present evidence, and give closing arguments, after which the jury deliberates. The jury decides whether the accused is guilty or not guilty, and then, if the jury verdict is guilty, the sentencing follows.

7. Appeals

If found guilty, the accused may choose to appeal the ruling due to a mistrial (which can be argued for many reasons) and receive another trial with a different jury.