When a Crime Occurs, The Criminal Justice System Is Set in Motion
We can think of a typical criminal case in the United States as having nine steps after the commission of a crime. Criminal Defense Lawyers provide citizens valuable services at every step of the process.
- Police Investigation – During the police investigation that follows a crime criminal defense lawyers can serve citizens in several important ways. They can attend questioning sessions to protect the citizen’s 5th amendment rights against providing information that is self-incriminating. At this stage the criminal defense lawyer is working to discourage the prosecution from arresting the citizen who is under suspicion of committing a crime.
- Arrest – When the police feel their investigation has revealed the guilty party they will arrest the person. If the police investigation has already developed a strong case against a citizen, the prosecution may press charges immediately. If the case is weak, and there is a risk the accused suspect may flee to avoid prosecution if released, the suspect may be held for a limited period as more information is collected and pressing charges is delayed until a stronger case id developed. However, the amount of time a suspect can be held without being charges is limited by law.
- Charges filed – After a citizen has been arrested, the prosecution has to review the evidence the police have gathered and decide whether there is a credible case. If the evidence does not seem compelling the citizen may be released, but if the evidence seems compelling then the prosecution will file charges against the citizen and the case advances toward trial.
- Initial appearance – After charges have been filed, the accused is brought before a judge and informed of the charges, a decision is made as to whether the accused will be released on bond until the trial or held in custody. Criminal defense lawyers can argue that the accused is not likely to run away and request bail and urge that the amount of bail required be as low as possible
- Grand Jury / Preliminary Hearing – In some jurisdictions the accused have the right to a preliminary hearing in which the prosecution presents evidence and the jury decides whether there is sufficient evidence for the case to go forward to trial. At the preliminary hearing the criminal defense lawyer can question the validity of the case presented by the prosecution and the evidence presented.
- Arraignment – The accused is brought before a judge and is informed of the charges against him. At this time the accused enters a plea of innocent, no contest, or guilty. If the suspect enters a plea of no contest, or guilty, then a trial is avoided and the judge sets a date for sentencing. If the accused enters a plea of guilty then the case goes forward to trial.
- Trial – If the case actually reaches the trial phase, the criminal defense lawyer’s role becomes most visible. During the trial, the criminal defense lawyer cross examines the witnesses presented by the to question the credibility of their testimony and the validity of the case presented by the prosecution. The criminal defense lawyer also objects to the prosecution’s questions that are inappropriate. The criminal defense lawyer seek to demonstrate that (1) the accused was not the perpetrator of a crime, or (2) under the circumstances at the time, not committing the act would have resulted in a greater harm resulting, or (3) there were mitigating circumstances such as insanity, duress, personal defense or other factor at play so the accused should not be punished for the action. The goal of the criminal justice lawyer at trial is a “not guilty verdict” or conviction on the minimal charges possible.
- Sentencing – If the accused pleads guilty or no contest to the charges read against him at a his arraignment, or if the accused is found guilty at trial then a date is set for sentencing. It is at this event that the guilty find out what their sentence will be.
- Appeal – If the case goes to trial and the verdict is guilty, and the criminal defense lawyer believes there were improper procedures that led to the guilty verdict, such as the judge giving inappropriate instructions to the jury or the police and prosecution withholding evidence that would have exonerated the defendant, then the criminal defense lawyer may appeal the case. The goal in appealing the case is to either win the right for the case to be retried or even better, to have the guilty verdict reversed.
Following a crime, criminal defense lawyers can provide important services defending the rights of suspected and accused citizens. The earlier the lawyer can be hired in a case the better for the defense. If possible citizens who are police suspects can benefit from having a criminal defense lawyer even before they have been arrested or charged.