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How the Criminal Process Works

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The American justice system is based on the criminal process. “Criminal process” is a term that means “how criminals are caught and punished.” There are certain steps taken by law enforcement in order to catch and punish criminals. They take a long time and involve numerous steps in order to prevent one person in law enforcement or the judicial system from having too much power. With many steps come many eyes looking into your case and many chances to air your side of the story.

Steps in the Criminal Justice Process

  • Investigation: The cops gather evidence and ask many questions of many people that they feel are somehow connected to a crime.
  • Arrest: The cops have a really good reason for suspecting you of a crime and take you to jail to keep an eye on you before the next step.
  • Indictment: Where you are formally charged with a specific crime when a prosecutor files the charge to a specific court.
  • Arraignment: Where you have to show up in court and enter a plea.
  • Bail or pretrial detention: This is the time between arraignment and the trial. Depending on the crime, you spend this in jail or pay bail in order to have some freedom before the trial.
  • Plea bargaining: This is where you need a good lawyer who can argue with the prosecutor to bring a lesser charge and lesser punishment.
  • Trial: This is where your case is presented and compared to the prosecutor’s case. If you are found innocent, you are free to go. If found guilty, you wait for the next step. You may have to wait in jail.
  • Sentencing: This can happen some time after the trial when a judge decides on how severe the punishment will be. Depending on the crime, you may have to go to jail immediately or have some time in between sentencing and showing up to jail to begin your sentence.
  • Appeals: This goes through the appellate or appeals court system so you are not tried by the same judge. This can take years. Meanwhile, you are in prison, under home arrest or are carrying out your sentence.

If the Police Want to Question You

If the police wish to question you, the best thing you can do is contact a lawyer to make sure your rights are protected. The police may insist that you come to the police station, even though you are not under arrest. Go to the police station but do not answer any questions until your lawyer arrives or instructs you in what to tell the police.

To learn more about the criminal process and how it works, reach out to criminal lawyer Brett A. Podolsky at 713-227-0087.

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