The Criminal Court Process: What You Need to Know
Being the subject of a criminal investigation or being arrested for a crime can be a frightening and confusing ordeal. If it is the first time you have been arrested, the experience can be particularly intimidating, for you may not know what to expect or where to turn for help. You may wonder if you need a criminal defense attorney or whether hiring a lawyer will make you appear guilty. Undoubtedly, you should find an experienced criminal lawyer who understands the system and who can help you avoid making critical errors that can jeopardize your case. Hiring an attorney is not an indication of guilt; rather it is an assertion of your rights and the best way to protect yourself from unjust prosecution and the violation of your rights as a person accused of a crime. Your lawyer can deftly guide you through the criminal court process, giving you the peace of mind that comes from knowing what to expect and knowing that someone with skill and experience is fighting for you.
An arrest may occur at the scene of a crime with probable cause, or it may be the result of an arrest warrant obtained following a preliminary investigation. A DUI arrest, for example, may occur after a police officer has noticed erratic driving and field sobriety tests indicate that the driver may be intoxicated or impaired. If a person is suspected of a white collar crime, on the other hand, a warrant may be issued for his or her arrest. There is no requirement for a defendant to be informed that an arrest warrant has been issued. This means that, for many people, the arrest is the first indication that they are in serious legal trouble.
If you have been arrested, your first steps are to get out of jail and to find a defense attorney to handle your case.
In most cases, Oklahoma courts will set bail for a person charged with a crime. When the defendant posts bond, it allows him or her to stay out of jail pending court dates, but provides the courts with the assurance that the defendant will show up for all scheduled court appearances. If you fail to appear, your bond will be forfeited and you will likely be required to remain in jail until the resolution of your case.
There is no predetermined bail amount for all crimes; rather, the amount will be determined by the seriousness of the crime and other factors. The bail for a first offense DUI is generally set between $1,000 and $5,000; violent crimes such as rape and robbery carry an average bond ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. In severe cases, a defendant may be denied bond.
There are two ways to make bail or bond out:
After bonding out, you are free from jail, but you still have a complex legal process to endure. Your attorney can help guide you through the system so that you understand what you can expect and what is expected of you.
When you are released from custody, you will be given an arraignment date. At your arraignment, you will be formally charged with a crime or crimes, and the judge will ask you whether you plead guilty or not guilty to the charges against you. You will be given your next court date.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, or an offense which carries a sentence of one year or less in jail, your case will be set on a Disposition Docket. A Disposition Docket is a court date where your attorney will either set your case for jury trial or negotiate with the prosecutor to arrange a plea bargain.
If you are charged with a felony, a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, the court will set your case for a Preliminary Hearing Conference, where your defense lawyer and the prosecutor meet to discuss your case.
The Preliminary Hearing Conference (PHC)
In felony cases, a Preliminary Hearing Conference is usually scheduled 30-60 days after your arraignment. At this court date, defense counsel and the prosecution analyze your case; often, the prosecutor will make a “recommendation” at this time. A recommendation is the prosecutor’s offer of a plea bargain. If the defendant finds the recommendation satisfactory, he or she can plead guilty at this time to take the deal. However, if the terms of the State’s offer are unacceptable or if the defendant maintains his or her innocence, the case is then set for Preliminary Hearing, in which the prosecutor must show probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crimes with which he or she is charged.
The Preliminary Hearing
The Preliminary Hearing is an official hearing during which the prosecutor must prove probable cause that the defendant committed the alleged crime. The prosecution does not need to prove that the defendant committed the crimes, only that there is sound reason to believe that he or she committed the crimes as alleged. If the State is unable to prove probable cause, the defendant wins the hearing and the case is dismissed. However, probable cause carries a low burden of proof, and therefore, the prosecution wins the overwhelming majority of Preliminary Hearings. If the prosecution wins the hearing, a jury trial is scheduled.
The Jury Trial
A jury trial is a complex process in which both the prosecution and the defense provide witnesses, experts, and evidence to support their case. Every case is unique, and a defense lawyer must be knowledgeable of courtroom procedure and prepared for subtleties and nuances of the law that can make or break a case. Nothing can replace successful courtroom experience in building the knowledge and skill it takes to win a case, and at Phillips & Associates, our defense lawyers have argued countless hours before the bench, successfully trying more cases than anyone in Oklahoma. Our proven track record has made us the top firm in the state, and our clients rely on us for positive results.