Dealing With A Criminal Charge: The Stages And Legal Process

Criminal charges carry significant weight and can have enduring repercussions for those implicated. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the various stages and legal procedures tied to criminal charges to safeguard one’s rights and secure a just trial.

This article will delve into the progression of criminal charges, commencing with the initial complaint and culminating in the sentencing phase. Furthermore, it will explore each stage’s legal process, providing a comprehensive overview of what individuals facing criminal charges should anticipate throughout the proceedings.

Definition Of A Criminal Charge

A criminal charge is an accusation of committing a prohibited act that carries the potential for punishment. This accusation can be made by either an individual or the government through legal proceedings.

Typically, the charge may be brought against someone suspected of breaking either state or federal laws, depending on the severity and nature of the alleged crime. Depending on which jurisdiction is involved, a criminal charge can result in fines, jail time, probationary periods, community service orders, or other forms of punishment.

Stages Of Criminal Charges

Understanding these stages is essential for comprehending the intricacies of the criminal justice system and the rights afforded to individuals involved in criminal proceedings. Here’s a detailed guide to each stage:

  1. Arrest

When an individual is suspected of committing a crime, they may be arrested and taken into custody. The arresting officer must have probable cause or reasonable suspicion that the suspect has broken the law for them to make an arrest. This means the officer must have facts or evidence suggesting that criminal activity has occurred.

Once the suspect is arrested, they will be brought before a judge to determine whether there is sufficient cause for criminal proceedings to continue against them. If so, the accused will be formally charged with a crime and can either remain in pre-trial detention or be released on bail pending trial.

During this time, it would be ideal to engage the services of a reputable law firm in your location, such as Priest Criminal Defense Attorney, to assist you in dealing with these charges.

  1. Booking

After an arrest, the suspect is taken through a process known as booking to determine the next steps in their criminal proceedings. This involves collecting identifying information from the individual, such as fingerprints and photographs. A background check may also be conducted at this time.

After completing these steps, any items on the person will be cataloged for safekeeping until the suspect’s release or custody transfer to another law enforcement authority. The booking process also includes searching for other outstanding warrants or charges against them, which can affect their current case.

Additionally, bail and bond amounts may be determined during booking. If they are released on their recognizance, they must agree to return for any required court appearances. Typically, booking concludes when all the paperwork is filed and signed by both parties.

  1. Bail

A person’s bail amount may be determined through the booking process, presenting a potential roadblock to freedom. Bail is integral to criminal proceedings because it allows an arrested person to be released from custody before their trial hearings. The court system will set bail at an amount they believe will ensure the defendant’s presence when summoned.

If the defendant is financially able, they can pay this fee and be released from jail while awaiting trial. However, if they can’t afford the bail amount or don’t have access to external resources, they must remain in jail until their trial hearing is concluded.

The purpose of bail is twofold. Firstly, it serves as a financial incentive for defendants to appear in court on their scheduled day, and secondly, it provides a disincentive for any attempt at fleeing.

  1. Arraignment

After the bail process has been completed, the next stage in the criminal process is arraignment. An arraignment is a formal hearing that takes place in court. During this hearing, the court will read the charges against the defendant and ask them to plead guilty or not guilty. This plea must be entered verbally and can also be changed at a later date if necessary.

The purpose of an arraignment is for the court to determine whether there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial and for the accused to be informed of their legal rights. Generally, at an arraignment, additional charges may be added by prosecutors or reduced by defense attorneys.

In addition, it’s also possible for both parties to agree on a plea bargain, which will be presented before the judge for approval and acceptance. If no agreement can be reached, then a trial date will also be scheduled during this time frame.

  1. Pre-trial Proceedings

Pre-trial proceedings are the steps taken in a criminal justice system before a trial:

  • Discovery: the stage when both parties exchange information about their cases to learn what evidence either side may possess
  • Motions: the stage wherein each party can make requests to the court regarding admissible evidence or other matters related to the case
  • Negotiation: the stage wherein prosecutors and defense attorneys attempt to reach a settlement agreement outside of court on how the case should be resolved
  • Hearings: the stage wherein issues that could not be resolved through negotiation are presented to a judge

The aim of pre-trial proceedings is for both parties involved in the case to have all relevant facts available before appearing in court for trial. During this process, lawyers can also file motions with the court that can influence how certain pieces of evidence will be used against them or their clients.

  1. Trial

At trial, the parties formally present their respective sides of the story before a judge and jury. The prosecution presents its evidence first, then the defense follows with its witnesses, cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses if necessary. After both sides have presented their cases, closing arguments are made by each party outlining their respective positions.

At this point, the jury is instructed on applicable law and then retires to deliberate on a verdict. During deliberations, they decide whether or not to convict based on the evidence presented at trial and instructions given by the judge. If convicted, sentencing will follow according to state laws governing criminal behavior.

  1. Sentencing

Sentencing is the final step of the criminal justice system, weighing an individual’s actions and providing an appropriate consequence. Generally, sentences may include fines, jail or prison time, probation, or other sanctions.

The courts consider several vital aspects when determining an appropriate sentence:

  • Restitution: This includes paying back victims for out-of-pocket losses suffered due to the crime committed.
  • Incapacitation: This involves depriving offenders of their freedom to protect society from potential harm caused by other criminal activity.
  • Rehabilitation/Treatment: This may involve counseling, specialized programming, and training to address underlying issues contributing to criminal behavior.

Typically, the sentence imposed depends on various factors, including the severity of the crime, prior criminal history, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Legal Process

The discussion around the legal process can include topics such as constitutional rights, types of crimes, elements of a crime, and defenses. Here’s an in-depth analysis of each process to understand it further.

  • Constitutional Rights

When facing a criminal accusation, the accused must be aware of their constitutional rights to ensure fair treatment throughout the proceedings. These constitutional rights include the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, protection from double jeopardy, protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process of law.

The right to remain silent is protected under the Fifth Amendment and allows someone accused of a crime not to answer questions or make any statement that could incriminate them in court. On the other hand, the Sixth Amendment grants those accused of a crime the right to have an attorney present during questioning by police officers.

Furthermore, protection from double jeopardy ensures that someone cannot be tried twice for the same offense. Moreover, protection from unreasonable searches and seizures prohibits police officers from searching a person’s home without probable cause or a valid warrant. Lastly, due process of law requires that all criminal proceedings be conducted according to specific established procedures for justice to be served fairly.

  • Types Of Crimes

Once a person is found guilty of a crime, the type of punishment they receive depends on the severity and nature of their offense. Generally, crimes are divided into misdemeanors and felonies.

A misdemeanor is considered less severe than a felony and typically involves more minor fines or shorter sentences for incarceration. Common misdemeanors include shoplifting, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, minor drug possession charges, vandalism, trespassing, and driving without insurance.

On the other hand, felonies are more serious offenses that carry harsher punishments, including more extended periods of incarceration or more substantial fines. Examples of felonies include murder, rape, sexual assault, robbery with a weapon, burglary or breaking into someone’s home or business, causing great bodily harm to another person, or property damage.

  • Elements Of A Crime

Understanding the components of criminal behavior is essential for appropriately addressing and responding to a crime. According to the law, a crime consists of several elements that must be established for an act or omission to be classified as criminal. These elements include the actus reus or guilty act, mens rea or guilty mind, concurrence between actus reus and mens rea, causation, and harm.

Actus reus refers to any voluntary action taken by an individual deemed illegal by state laws. Mens rea concerns one’s mental state when committing an act; it involves knowing what one is doing or intending to do something wrong.

Additionally, both these states must exist concurrently for a crime to have occurred. Causation requires proving that the accused’s actions were directly responsible for causing harm. In contrast, ‘harm’ means physical injury or psychological damage done to another person or property due to their actions.

  • Defenses

The ability to successfully mount a defense responding to criminal charges is an integral part of the judicial system. A successful defense requires understanding the various types of defenses that may be available, depending on the type of crime and the individual circumstances.

Generally speaking, a defendant has two broad categories of defenses: legal and factual. Legal defenses are based upon legal rules or principles that can make certain conduct noncriminal. On the other hand, factual defenses are based upon facts that show that a defendant did not commit the offense charged even though their behavior might otherwise be considered unlawful.

One example of a legal defense is self-defense, in which a person may use force when faced with an imminent threat from another person attacking them or trying to cause them harm. Another example is insanity. This could be used if it can be shown at trial that someone lacked mental capacity due to mental illness when they committed the alleged crime and thus could not form the intent necessary for criminal liability.

The duress defense could also apply if it can be proven that someone committed an act under threat or coercion by another party so great that it would cause any reasonable person to behave similarly. Additionally, numerous other legal defenses, such as entrapment and alibi, depending on state laws and local court rules, can provide evidence against criminal liability for the accused party.


Criminal charges are a serious matter and require the expertise of legal professionals to navigate. Understanding the stages and legal processes associated with criminal charges is essential to ensure one’s rights are protected throughout the proceedings.

The legal process involves filing motions and gathering evidence and witnesses for testimony. It also undergoes negotiations between prosecutors and defense attorneys, as well as making arguments in court. All these steps can be daunting, but understanding them is vital to achieving desired outcomes when facing criminal charges.