For the average person, being charged with a criminal offense for the first time is a fairly scary and confusing experience. If you find yourself in this situation, you are likely wrestling with a wide range of emotional responses to your situation. You may be worried about the outcome of your case, angry and finding yourself in this predicament, and confused about what happens next. Thanks to television and the big screen, people often think a defendant jumps straight from an arrest to a trial, and the idea of being a defendant in a criminal trial may be frightening to you. The reality is that not all criminal cases go to trial nor do all criminal defense attorneys push to go to trial. Learning a bit more about what happens during the prosecution of a criminal case should help you to feel more in control of your situation.
What Happens after the Arrest in a Criminal Case?
Given the prevalence of cop shows on television, just about everyone knows what happens during an arrest; however, what happens after the arrest? No two cases are exactly alike, though there are similar steps that post criminal prosecutions pass through. After an initial arrest, the defendant will have an initial appearance, sometimes called an arraignment. If the defendant is still in custody the initial hearing usually takes place with a couple of days of the arrest. If the defendant posted bail, the initial hearing might be set out a couple of weeks. At that time the judge will explain the charges against the defendant, make sure the defendant understands his/her rights, and ask the defendant if he/she has retained an attorney yet.
After the initial hearing, the next court appearance is usually for a pre-trial conference, unless either side requests a hearing for another reason. The purpose of a pre-trial conference is to let the court now how the case is progressing and to discuss any trial issues that need to be addressed. The case will likely be set on the court’s trial calendar at the initial hearing; however, that date if often continued for any of a number of reasons. Between the initial hearing and trial, the State is required to provide “discovery” to the defense. “Discovery” refers to the State’s obligation to provide all evidence against the defendant to the defense.
At some point, the prosecutor will likely approach the defense about the possibility of the defendant accepting a guilty plea agreement. If the defendant has any interest, negotiations will ensue. If the defendant is not interested, the case will proceed toward trial. A defendant has an absolute right to a trial by jury; however, sometimes it is in the defendant’s best interest to waive that right and have the case tried to a judge. This is referred to as a “bench trial” or “trial by judge.”
The Job of a Defense Attorney
Contrary to what many people believe, defense attorneys do not make all of the decisions for the defendant in a criminal prosecution. In fact, a defense attorney does not make any of the big decisions, including the decision to take a case to trial.
A defense attorney’s job is to provide you with advice and guidance and make sure your rights are protected. Whether or not you accept a guilty plea or take your case to trial is ultimately your decision alone to make. A defense attorney should not push you in either direction when it comes to deciding to accept a plea or go to trial. Your attorney may feel strongly one way or the other about your chances of winning if you go to trial, and should convey that opinion to you, but it is not your attorney’s freedom and future on the line — it is yours. Therefore, when it comes to making decisions about how to resolve the case, your attorney’s role should remain one of advisor only. He/she should make sure you understand your options and the possible outcomes of each options and then let you make the final decision.
If you have additional questions regarding the role of defense attorneys, or you wish to retain the services of one in the State of Tennesse, please consult with the experienced Tennessee defense attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.