Finding yourself the defendant in a criminal prosecution can be a frightening experience. Along with worrying about the final outcome of your case, you may be unfamiliar with the criminal justice system itself. That alone can be intimidating. To help you better understand what to expect as the defendant, a Murfreesboro criminal lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains ten common steps in a criminal case.
- Your arrest. A criminal prosecution begins with the arrest of the accused. You may be arrested shortly after the commission of the alleged crime (for example in a driving under the influence case) or you might be arrested after a judge issues an arrested warrant based on a police investigation.
- Determination of bail. A defendant is guaranteed a reasonable bail by the U.S. Constitution except in rare cases, such as when the charge is murder or treason. If someone pays your bail you will be released. If you are unable to pay the original amount, your criminal defense attorney may be able to request a bail hearing at which time he/she will argue for a reduced amount.
- Appearance at your initial hearing. The first time you appear in court is your initial hearing, also referred to as an arraignment. The judge will make sure you understand the charges against you and read you your rights. In addition, a preliminary plea of not guilty will be entered on your behalf and your legal representation will be discussed if you have not yet hired an attorney.
- The discovery process. The next phase of a criminal case is referred to as “discovery.” During discovery, the State is required to turn over any evidence that it intends to use against you at trial, including a list of witnesses it intends to call. The defense is also required to provide certain things to the prosecution; however, the burden in a criminal case is on the State to prove that the defendant is guilty.
- Strategizing and investigating your defense. You are not required to prove your innocence. Nevertheless, your defense attorney will investigate the case as part of the process of developing a defense strategy.
- Appearing at pre-trial conferences. You may be required to appear in court for pre-trial conferences. A pre-trial conference is usually a short court appearance intended to let the judge know where things stand and ensure that the case is moving along. Sometimes, a longer hearing will be held to address motions filed by either side.
- Negotiating a plea agreement. The State (via the prosecutor) will usually offer the defendant a guilty plea agreement. You are never required to accept a plea agreement. If, however, you are open to the idea of accepting a plea agreement, your attorney will work on negotiating the most advantageous agreement possible.
- Accepting a guilty plea agreement. As the name implies, a guilty plea agreement requires to you plead guilty in court. The judge will question you to ensure that you are entering into the agreement knowingly and voluntarily and that you are admitting that you did what is stated in the charging documents.
- Your case goes to trial. If you decide against accepting a guilty plea agreement, your case will go to trial. You will have to decide (with the assistance of your attorney) whether to have a judge or jury decide your fate. If you decide on a judge you must waive your right to a trial by jury. If you are convicted at trial, sentencing may occur immediately after the trial; however, if the charges are more serious a pre-sentence investigation may be conducted before you are sentenced. If you are acquitted at trial, your case is over.
- Appealing your conviction. If you are convicted at trial, you have a constitutional right to appeal that verdict; however, you must file a notice of appeal right away or you waive that right.
Contact a Murfreesboro Criminal Lawyer
If you have additional questions about a criminal case in Tennessee, it is important that you consult with an experienced Murfreesboro criminal lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.