The criminal process usually starts when a person is stopped or arrested. And, the most interesting part of the process is that it can end at any given point until the time the perpetrator is sentenced, based on the evidence, facts and circumstances which vary from case to case. The accused has rights at every stage of the process and that is why you should know what this entire process involves. It will allow you to understand not just the criminal process, but also your rights and whether the lawyer you have hired is the right one for your needs.
Criminal Process: The Start
Many people are routinely stopped by police for questioning. This is not the same as being arrested. Rather, the police stop you and ask you certain questions. You will not be taken to a police station or any other location. Usually, when it comes to questioning, the police should have reasonable doubt about you violating the law. At this point, you have the right not to answer any question that the police ask you. If the police want to search your vehicle, they have to ask you for permission and without that they cannot do it. However, if the police have probable cause, they do not require your consent to search your vehicle and this is something you cannot contest until your case comes up for hearing. Once your vehicle is searched, the police officer has to make a decision whether to arrest you or let you go. If there is no need for arrest, the criminal process ends at this point and no further action is taken.
Usually, an arrest is made if the police feel that you were involved in a felony, misdemeanour or there is a pending arrest warrant in your name. When you are arrested, you will be in police custody.
Criminal Process – The Arrest
When you are being arrested, it is mandatory for the police to state your rights. These rights allow you to stay silent and have access to a criminal lawyer. You should get a chance to contact a lawyer or family member/friend to inform them about your arrest. After your arrest, you should either be charged with the crime or be released. If you have been held in police custody without being charged, your criminal solicitor can get a judge to order your release.
Once you are charged, it is time to be booked. During this process, your finger prints will be taken, your entire name and address will be entered into official records and your photograph will also be clicked. Your personal belongings will be taken and kept safe until you are released.
Based on gravity of your crime, you can either be released or detained in police custody. If you are released, you will be given a date and day on which you have to come to the court for the hearing. You can be released by posting bail or on your own recognizance. If you are not released, you will stay in police custody until your case comes up for hearing, during which you can plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, the next step is the sentencing. This can happen immediately or at a later date and the judge decides whether you should be held in custody or released until the sentencing date.
Criminal Process – The Court Case
In case you plead not guilty, there will be a court case to prove your guilt. However, before that, based on the circumstances and crime, you can be released until your trial.
If you have been arrested for a crime, be it felony or misdemeanour, you should hire a qualified and experienced criminal lawyer. The lawyer can either have the case dismissed or work to reduce your sentence. With a good and reliable lawyer at your side, you can be certain that you will get the right advice at every step of the criminal process.