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The Stages of a Criminal Case


Most criminal cases follow the same trajectory, if not the same timeline. If you’ve been arrested for a crime, you might need to prepare for what to expect next. Here are the seven stages to expect in a criminal case.

Stage 1: Bail

Depending on the severity of a crime, bail may not be necessary. However, it is a payment made to the court allowing a defendant to be released from custody and go home. Its purpose is to ensure you show up for your court dates; otherwise, the money is forfeited. Bail can be expensive, which is why there are businesses that offer to pay your bail for a percentage of the total amount.

Stage 2: Arraignment

The arraignment is usually the first court appearance in a criminal case and must be held as fast as possible, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. They often occur quickly after an arrest as a protection for defendants. Police and prosecutors should have valid evidence gathered and cannot hold you indefinitely while deciding how to proceed in court. The judge will listen to all arguments from the prosecution and defense and decide any bail issues. The judge will also set a tentative schedule for upcoming court dates.

Stage 3: Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing happens shortly after charges have officially been filed. The judge will decide whether or not there is probable cause to hold a trial on the charges against the defendant, or whether there is no sufficient evidence to prosecute. Prosecutors will call witnesses and present evidence to support his or her argument that a trial is necessary, and the defense can cross-examine these witnesses and argue a lack of sufficient evidence. In this stage, the judge can rule that the defendant should stand trial for the original charges, stand trial for less severe offenses, or is free to go because the case is dismissed.

Stage 4: Pretrial Conference

At this juncture, the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge meet and discuss possible plea bargains. A good defense attorney will create a “mitigation package” that demonstrates the personal situation of the defendant and attempts to convince the parties that the defendant is a good person who made a mistake. However, ultimately the defendant will have the power to accept or reject the plea bargain negotiated by his or her lawyer

Stage 5: Jury Trial

If someone rejects the plea deal, a jury trial is necessary. A jury will be selected to hear the arguments of the defense and the prosecution and make a decision regarding whether or not the evidence fits the charges.

Stage 6: Sentencing

Depending on the ruling of the jury, they will either determine that the defendant is guilty, not guilty, or guilty of some of the charges and not guilty of others. Sentencing for a guilty verdict is a decision made by the judge. Largely, the circumstances surrounding the crime and the arrest will determine the judge’s decision, as will previous convictions.

Stage 7: Appeal

Once a jury and judge have made their decisions and convicted a person of a crime and rendered a sentence, the convicted person can challenge a jury’s verdict at trial. This challenge involves filing a Notice of Appeal, which moves the individual’s case to a higher-level appellate court. The appellant cannot include new evidence or introduce new arguments about their innocence, but they can cite specific instances where the case was not handled properly. If the appellate judge feels the jury made an error, he or she can overturn the verdict.

For more information about how your case will work, or to discuss your situation with an experienced Mesa criminal defense attorney, don’t hesitate to call us. Our lawyers are dedicated to protecting people’s rights and freedoms. Let us see what we can do for you.

Contact us at (480) 418-0776 or fill out our online form to schedule a free case consultation today.

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