What Should I Expect in Each Stage of a Criminal Case?
This is only a very general and not entirely inclusive guide to the stages of a criminal case.
The actual process can be quite complicated, so if you have been arrested in Colorado, you should seek immediate legal representation from our experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C.
With that in mind, the process goes something like this:
Stop and Arrest
A criminal case typically begins with a suspect being stopped and arrested due to probable cause or an arrest warrant. Without a warrant, police can only arrest a suspect if an officer has reasonable belief that the suspect has committed an offense, or the officer directly witnesses the offense.
First Appearance and Bail
When an arrest warrant is issued, bail is often set by the issuing judge; otherwise a defendant has a first appearance after arrest to set bail. Bail is a financial security paid to the court as a promise to ensure the defendant appears for the rest of the criminal case. In some rare cases, there may not be any bail and the defendant has no choice but to remain in custody.
Charges are then officially filed by the State of Colorado against the defendant. This can be done through an indictment, information, or complaint depending on what the prosecutor prefers in each case. An indictment requires a grand jury, while an information is filed by a prosecutor, and a complaint is filed by a prosecutor or law enforcement officer.
Advisement and Preliminary Hearings
At the advisement hearing, a defendant hears the charges against him or her, is advised regarding right to counsel, and addresses the matter of bail. This hearing should occur within only a few days of arrest, generally as soon as possible. Additional hearings may be necessary in some cases, and defendants can waive the right to many preliminary hearings to speed up the process and skip unnecessary procedures.
Discovery and Pretrial Motions
During discovery, the defense and prosecution share evidence with each other so that each side is on a level field. The defense must be able to analyze evidence and bring in its own experts as appropriate for a case. Various pretrial motions can also be filed by the defense to remove inappropriate evidence, challenge improper police procedure, and otherwise ensure the strongest defense possible.
Plea bargains refer to offers made by the prosecution to the defense to keep the matter from going to trial, often with a lesser charge or recommendation of short sentence. Taking a plea means the defendant admits guilt, but a plea bargain can speed up the criminal process.
If no plea is reached, then the case goes to trial and a jury is selected. During a trial, each side presents an opening argument, presents evidence and questions witnesses, and offers a closing argument. The jury is given instructions by the judge, deliberates on the merits of the case, and finally presents a unanimous verdict. If the jury is unable to reach a verdict, is it declared a mistrial. Whether or not the case is tried again in another trial is up to the prosecutor.
Sentencing and Appeal
If a verdict of “not guilty” is returned, the charges are dropped immediately. Should the jury return a “guilty” verdict, or if a defendant pleads guilty, then the judge will issue a sentence regarding the penalty. The defense can present appeals to try to overturn the verdict or argue for a mistrial, and the sentence can also be appealed if it can be deemed “overly harsh.”
This is a complicated process and the stakes are extremely high. Do not try to go through the legal system on your own. Call us at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C., today at (719) 475-2555. We have some of the best criminal defenders in the state, and aggressively advocate for our client’s best outcome.