Banner for The Criminal Justice Systems: A Guide for Law Enforcement Officers and Expert Witnesses in Impaired Driving Cases

Understanding Criminal Cases

Stages of a Criminal Case

                         Chronology

Felony

 Misdemeanor

Stop -Temporary detention of an individual for investigation. To be legal, a stop must be based on reasonable suspicion to believe the individual has committed, or is about to commit, some violation of the law. If the stop yields information to confirm the suspicion, the stop may escalate into an arrest.

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Arrest  - Taking a suspect into custody for the purpose of prosecution on a criminal charge. To be legal, an arrest must be based on probable cause—a belief that it is more likely than not that the suspect has committed an offense.  

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Booking -The process of officially recording an arrest. It typically includes (1) photographing the defendant (i.e., taking a “mug shot”), (2) fingerprinting the defendant, and (3) obtaining pedigree information (name, address, date of birth, etc.) from the defendant.

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Arraignment - The initial appearance of the defendant in court to answer the charges in an accusatory instrument. At the arraignment, the judge (1) provides the defendant with a copy of the accusatory instrument, (2) advises the defendant of the right to counsel and arranges for counsel to be provided without cost if the defendant is indigent, and (3) considers the matter of bail.

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Preliminary Hearing (Felony Hearing) -Generally speaking, a defendant who is arrested on a felony charge and held in jail has the right to an impartial testing of the evidence within a certain, relatively short time frame after arrest. Experts may need to testify at this stage.

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Grand Jury - A jury whose job is to determine if there is adequate evidence to charge a defendant with a crime. Not all States use the grand jury system. Experts may need to testify at this stage.

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Discovery - A pre-trial stage where the parties exchange information about the evidence and arguments they will offer at trial. In many States, the burden of supplying discovery information rests almost entirely upon the prosecution. This is because the presumption of innocence and the privilege against self-incrimination generally permit a defendant to remain silent throughout the prosecution.

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Pre-Trial Motions & Hearings - A motion is a request by which a party (prosecution or defense) asks a judge to issue an order. For example, in criminal cases, pre-trial motions by defendants commonly include motions for dismissal of the indictment and for suppression of evidence. Experts may need to testify at this stage

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Trial  - A trial determines the question of the defendant’s guilt. The verdict of the jury is either “guilty” or “not guilty” on each charge given to the jury for determination. Experts involved in a case  will testify at this stage

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Post-Conviction and Post-Judgment Motions Post-conviction and post-judgment motions are used to attack guilty findings. As part of these motions the defendant may seek an evidentiary hearing to bring to lightfacts not litigated during the trial.

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Sentencing - The imposition of punishment by the judge following a conviction. The range of possible sentences depends on the level of the offense committed.

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Appeal - A review by a higher court of the correctness of legal proceedings in a lower court. If the conviction is overturned on appeal, the case starts all over again – and witnesses may be called to testify at a new trial as if the previous trial never occurred.

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