How a Criminal Case Begins in Our Justice System
The process of our criminal justice system begins when law enforcement officers become aware that an alleged crime has been committed. This can occur in a variety of ways, but the most common is when a complaint is made by the victim of a crime. Most of the time this occurs when an alleged victim calls 911 as a crime is being committed or shortly thereafter. The police could also arrest anyone if they witness a crime, such as with most DWI’s (Driving While Intoxicated).
Law Enforcement Investigation and Arrest
After receiving a 911 call or otherwise receiving a complaint of criminal conduct from a person, law enforcement begins an investigation. In most cases, this starts with an interview with the victim, who may or may not know the person they think committed the crime. The police investigate first to determine if they believe a crime was committed. If so, their investigation continues to gather evidence and to try to identify the perpetrator. If the alleged perpetrator can be identified, law enforcement must gather enough evidence to establish “probable cause” to get a warrant for the perpetrator’s arrest. With “probable cause,” law enforcement will obtain a warrant from a judge for the arrest of the person they believe committed the crime. After the warrant is signed by the judge, the police will attempt to “serve” the warrant, meaning they go arrest the person.
Sometimes, law enforcement witnesses a crime. In those scenarios, law enforcement can immediately arrest the alleged perpetrator of the crime without first obtaining a warrant. However, they cannot continue to hold the perpetrator indefinitely. They must quickly obtain the warrant for arrest from a judge after the arrest. In either referenced above, the person arrested is taken to jail.
Arraignment and Bond
After arrest, an alleged perpetrator is booked into a jail, where they remain until arraigned before a judge. At arraignment, the alleged perpetrator must enter a plea. At this point, they become a “defendant.”
A Defendant could enter a plea of “guilty” or “no contest” at the arraignment hearing and accept an immediate sentence and punishment from the judge. This is NOT recommended. You should always plead “not guilty” and then contact us for representation.
In most cases, the plea at arraignment is “not guilty.” With a not guilty plea, the judge then decides whether to set a bond or deny bond. If a bond is denied, the Defendant remains in jail until he or she either accepts a plea agreement or goes to trial. If the judge allows a bond, the amount of the bond is established, along with other bond requirements for the Defendant’s conditional release from jail. If a Defendant posts the bond amount, either personally or through a bail bondsman, he or she is released from jail. If not, he or she remains in jail until a plea agreement is reached or the case goes to trial.
A “Not Gulty” plea can always be changed at a later date if an acceptable plea agreement is reached. It is our strongest recommendation to all Defendants to plead Not Guilty at arraignment so that they can consult with legal counsel before deciding to enter a different plea or take their case to trial.
Filing a Criminal Charge
After law enforcement has investigated and/or arrested a person they believe committed a criminal act, they turn over all of their evidence, including physical evidence, photographs, videos, witness statements, test results, etc., along with the arrest report or warrant to the county prosecutors. The prosecutors are either County or District Attorneys and their Assistant County or District Attorneys. After receiving all of the evidence, the prosecutors must review everything and then make a determination on how they want to proceed. A prosecutor could refuse to pursue charges, if for example, they feel that there is insufficient evidence, or if the evidence was obtained improperly. If a prosecutor believes the evidence is sufficient and proper, they can either file a Complaint, if it’s a misdemeanor charge, or pursue an Indictment from a Grand Jury, if the charge is a felony.
Prosecutors have time limits within which to file a criminal charge, depending on whether the accused is in jail or has bonded out. If a Defendant is in jail, prosecutors only have 15 days to file a Complaint when charged with a Class B misdemeanor, 30 days for a Class A misdemeanor and 90 days for felonies. However, if the Defendant has bonded out of jail, prosecutors have up to 2 years to file criminal charges for misdemeanors and much longer periods for felonies. Some of the more severe felonies have no time restriction on filing.
After a Complaint is filed (in the case of a misdemeanor) or an Indictment by a Grand Jury (in the case of a felony) the case is sent to a specific court in that county for proceeding.
Each County/District Attorney has their own processes, procedures and guidelines for pursuing criminal charges. The important thing for any Defendant facing criminal charges is to retain qualified legal counsel who is familiar with that particular county.
Our criminal justice system is a complex process, the end result of which has far reaching consequences: imprisonment, probation, high dollar fines, a permanent criminal record, loss of voting rights, loss of gun rights, and loss of future employment. With so much at stake, get the sound counsel of a trusted professional. With over twenty-nine (29) years of experience and a dedication to client satisfaction, you can rest assured that we’ll do everything possible to get you the result you deserve. Call us now at 214-999-0595 to talk to our experienced attorneys or staff members to see how we can help you.