Stages of a Criminal Case

scales-300x192If you have been arrested for a crime, you are actually at the beginning of what could become a long journey through a criminal justice system. Criminal prosecution usually develops in series of stages starting with arrest and ending at sentence . Many criminal cases usually end when the suspect accepts the plea bargain begin offered to him/her by the prosecution. In that bargain, the suspect can choose to plead guilty to the charged offenses in exchange for dismissal of related charges or a more lenient sentence. Below are the main stages of a criminal case.


A criminal prosecution usually starts with arrest by a police officer. An officer can arrest an individual if he/she observes an individual committing crime, or if the officer has reasons to believe that indeed a crime has actually been committed by that individual. An officer can also arrest a person when he/she has valid arrest warrant. The police officer will then book the suspect and after the booking process is complete, the suspect is then placed into custody. If the defendant has committed minor crime(s), he/she may be issued with a citation policy with instruction to appear in court of later.


The first thing that a suspect may want to know after being placed in a jail is how much it is going to cost him/her, to actually get out of jail. The suspect will only be released on bail of he/she agrees to honor all court proceedings. Bail can actually be granted to suspect just immediately after booking of later after hearing.


The first appearance in court after the suspect has been arrested is a hearing called arraignment. Depending on how serious the suspect crime is, he/she may actually have to wait until the arraignment to have bail set. During the arraignment, the judge normally read the charges to the suspect and the suspect can either choose to plead guilty to those charges or not.

Plea bargaining

Many criminal court cases are usually overwhelmed with cases and as result only 10% of cases normally succeed to go to trial. Most of the cases are usually resolved during the process known as plea bargaining. But the suspect must have something to bargain.

Preliminary hearing

At this stage, the prosecutor tries his/her best to convince the judge that there is enough evidence to show that the crime was actually committed and the suspect probably committed it. In some states, a grand jury system is normally used instead of preliminary hearing.

Pre- trial motions

Pre -trial motions are normally brought by the defense and the prosecution so as to resolve all final issues and establish what testimony and evidence will be admissible during trial.


At the trial, the jury or the judge will find the suspect guilty of not. The prosecution must actually prove beyond reasonable doubt that indeed the suspect actually committed the crime accused of. The judge or jury will then make the final decision after listening to both the opening and the closing statements. If by chance the jury actually fails to agree unanimously on the verdict, the case will be dismissed immediately or a new judge or jury will be formed. If the jury finds the suspect guilty he/she will be sentenced.


If the suspect is found guilty or he/she pleads guilty by him/herself, the jury will sentence the suspect for his /her crimes but there are very many factors that can actually determine if the suspect get either maximum or minimum sentence.

Appealing process

If the suspect thinks that legal error actually caused him/her to be convicted or sentenced unfairly, he/she has the freedom to appeal to higher court. Although successful appealing is very rare, it is possible.

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