The criminal procedure against an individual in a state starts at the point of detention which may be effected under the authority granted to law enforcement officials by a judicial warrant or even in cases where the arrest is made without a warrant. However, this article deals with the various processes that come after the formal detention of a person.
The arraignment:Once an accused has been detained, the court has to decide whether this individual can be let out on bail or he poses significant risk to the society or to the victim or of absconding and hence must be detained till such time that the judiciary decides on his fate through a formal trial.
A hearing is held for this which is known as arraignment; at this point in the case, the alleged offender may be granted bail and if this is done, he will have to post the bail amount. During this court session, the judge also informs the defendant of the charges being filed against him. This is usually the first time that the accused is escorted to court and this hearing is generally held within 48 hours of arrest.
Preliminary examination: This hearing occurs approximately 14 day after the arraignment and the prosecution has to prove that there is probable cause to accuse the defendant of the criminal act and that an incident which can be deemed criminal in nature did indeed occur. This hearing can be excluded from the judicial cycle if the defense waives their right to it or if the prosecution carries the burden of proving this. In both cases, the matter is bound over to the circuit tribunal.
Pretrial Conference: This is a meeting of sorts between the defense and the prosecution. During this session, attorneys from both sides discuss the evidence held by them and schedule motions, choose trial dates and even settle on a plea bargain. If the plea agreement is accepted, the case directly goes for sentencing. Depending on the court room procedures of the tribunal in which the case is being heard and the judge presiding over the matter, there may be multiple or no pretrial conferences.
Motion Hearing: Held right before the case goes to trial, in the motion hearing, the judge rules on preliminary and procedural matters of the case. The party that files the motion also has to send a notice of it to the opposing side and they in turn have to submit a written response to the motion in court. The judge has the final say when it comes to granting or denying a motion.
The trial: Like all other court proceedings that involve attorneys, a criminal case also sees the opening statement made by both sides, evidence and witnesses brought in which are examined and cross examined and closing arguments made by both the defense and the prosecution. However, what sets a criminal trial apart from other legal proceedings is the right of the defense to choose a bench or a jury trial. The latter is self explanatory and involves the verdict being given out by a panel of 12 civilians who decide whether the defendant should be held guilty or acquitted.
In contrast, a bench trial does not involve jurors; the judge presides over the trial and serves the role of the fact finder. So, it is the judge who determines if the prosecution was able to prove guilt beyond doubt. A bench trial can only occur if the defense waives its right to trial by jury and only if the prosecution agrees with this.
The criminal process ends with the sentencing of the accused. This is done in conformance of the state laws on the matter and the judge sentences the criminal.