How Crimes are Investigated and Prosecuted
25th March 2022
If you’ve been arrested, you’re naturally going to have a lot of questions. There’s a good chance you haven’t had any reason to pay much attention to the criminal justice system in the past, so you’re not sure what to expect. Whether you’re facing a misdemeanor or a felony charge, the stakes are going to be extremely high. You’ll want to be as well prepared as possible.
The criminal defense attorneys with Sand Law would like to share some information about how the typical case works its way through the court system. If you don’t already have legal representation, we urge you to get in touch with us as soon as possible. Regardless of the offense you’ve been charged with – a financial crime, an assault or basically anything else – we’ll be here for you.
There may be a chance we could either have your potential penalties reduced. Or, if you’ve been wrongfully arrested, have your case thrown out entirely. Please contact us to schedule a free consultation to learn more. You can use our online form. Or you can give us a call at 701-609-1510.
Investigation is Initiated by Law Enforcement
When a criminal incident occurs, a law enforcement agency will typically begin an investigation to find out what happened and who committed the crime. This agency could be a local police or sheriff’s department. If a federal crime has occurred, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The investigation could begin if an officer observes a potential violation of the law, such as a motorist weaving in and out of traffic because they may be driving under the influence of alcohol or an illegal drug.
Investigations can also develop from witnesses or victims reporting a potential crime. Officers will conduct interviews, gather physical evidence, and then document their findings with videos, photographs and written reports.
Defendant is Arrested or Summoned to Court for a Hearing
Once authorities identify a person (known as the defendant in legal terms) they suspect to have committed the crime, they will then move to arrest that person. Law enforcement officers will need probable cause to make an arrest. Probable cause means much more than merely suspecting someone is guilty of a crime. It means having a reasonable belief of that guilt based on evidence and facts. If officers don’t have an arrest warrant from a judge, they must be able to prove an arrest was immediately needed.
After defendants are either arrested or turn themselves in voluntarily, an initial hearing (also called an arraignment) will take place. The court will hear the defendant’s plea (typically not guilty), and then inform the defendant about their rights. The court will then determine whether or not to set bail for the defendant, release them with a promise to appear at a later date, or order the defendant to remain in custody.
After the arraignment, the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor will engage in a criminal case proceeding known as discovery. This is simply where both parties exchange information pertinent to the case, including witness statements, videos, photos, police reports and more.
They may also file motions, or papers asking the court to do something. The defense, for instance, may file a motion to dismiss the case, to introduce evidence, or to suppress evidence. The prosecution may file motions to either increase or revoke the defendant’s bail.
Jury is Selected
In the vast majority of criminal cases, defendants have a right to a trial by jury, which will usually consist of 12 people. Potential jurors are selected at random to appear at a certain day and time. And the defense and prosecution will ask them questions to find out if they can be fair and impartial. This process is known as “voir dire.”
Trial will begin after the jurors are selected. The defense and prosecution attorneys will then give their opening statements, providing a preview of the evidence that will be presented. The prosecution will present its evidence first, followed by the defense. Both sides will be able to present witnesses, as well as cross-examine witnesses. This means the defense can ask questions of the prosecution’s witnesses and vice-versa.
After both sides present their evidence, the trial judge will then instruct the jurors to deliberate.
A Chance for a Plea Agreement
Many cases wind up not going to trial because the defense and prosecution agree to a deal, known as a plea agreement. For example, let’s say a person is charged with theft, robbery or burglary. They decide they want to make a plea bargain with the prosecution by pleading “guilty” or “no contest.” In return, the prosecution agrees to either reduce the penalties or dismiss the case entirely.
A plea bargain can occur anytime after a defendant is charged. Both sides can reach an agreement the morning a trial is scheduled to begin, or even during the middle of a trial.
Verdict is Delivered
If no plea agreement is reached, the jury will deliver a verdict to the court. Jury members will either find the defendant guilty or not guilty. Or the jury foreman will announce that the jury could not come to a unanimous agreement of guilt or innocence. This is known as a “hung” jury.
In the case of a hung jury, the judge will declare a mistrial. The prosecution will then have the option to retry the case at a later date if they wish. If the verdict is “not guilty,” the case is over and the defendant will be cleared.
If Found Guilty, Sentencing Occurs
However, if the jury reaches a “guilty” verdict, the court will pass sentence. Judges will sometimes have the leeway to impose probation rather than jail time. But they will take many different factors into consideration before doing so. These include the defendant’s criminal record, the nature of the crime, and more.
Contact a North Dakota Criminal Defense Attorney to Represent You
Facing any sort of criminal charge can be an incredibly scary experience. You’ll need the help of a skilled defense attorney in order to have the best chance possible of seeing a positive outcome to your case. Sand Law attorneys are not only skilled, they also have a strong track record of success. Schedule a free case review by contacting us online or calling 701-609-1510.