Criminal Justice Reform

The Criminal Charges Process Explained

The most common starting point of the criminal charges process is the arrest and detainment of the defendant. This takes place when an arresting officer of the law takes a defendant into custody due to suspicion of a crime being committed.

After the arrest, this arresting officer will then file a report to the local prosecuting attorney. This report is then viewed by office of the prosecuting attorney, who decides if charges will be pressed. If the prosecuting attorney does make the decision to move forward with charges, then it will also be determined at this point which criminal charges will be filed against the defendant.

Criminal Charge Types

There are many different types of criminal charges, all of which vary from state-to-state in terms of penalty and severity. Some of the most common types of criminal charges are:

  • Assault-related charges such as aggravated assault, simple assault, and domestic battery
  • Theft-related charges such as burglary, petty theft, issuing bad checks, shoplifting, and forgery
  • Drug-and-alcohol-related charges such as driving under the influence, drug possession and sale, and public intoxication
  • Charges stemming from past arrests or court judgments such as probation violation, parole violation, perjury, failure to pay child support, and failure to pay fines

There are also more serious charges such as murder in the 1st or 2nd degree, manslaughter, negligent homicide, weapons violations, sexual offenses, child abuse, kidnapping, and armed robbery.

The Arraignment Process

Shortly after the defendant’s arrest, there will be an arraignment and bail hearing. The length of time that passes between the arrest and the arraignment varies depending on the local court system, but it is generally no longer than three days after the initial arrest. The hearing date and time will be set in the local court. This information is posted online by some courts, and can be obtained by calling the court’s general number as well.

At the arraignment, all of the criminal charges which have been filed against the defendant will be read and the defendant will be able to enter a “guilty”, “not guilty”, or “no contest” plea to the charges. A defendant can also refuse to enter a plea, in which case an automatic plea of “not guilty” will be filed on the defendant’s behalf by the court.

It is important to note that an arraignment is not a trial where the defendant can contest the filed criminal charges. The arraignment hearing is only for the formal reading of the charges and the entering of the defendant’s plea.

The Setting of Bail

Bail for the defendant is generally set during the initial arraignment, although in some instances a separate bail hearing will be called. The judge at the arraignment or the bail hearing will decide if bail is an option and, if so, then determine the bail amount. The prosecuting attorney will be allowed to make an argument for what the bail amount should be, or argue against bail entirely.

It is the right any defendant to have an attorney present at the arraignment and bail hearing. The defense attorney will argue for a lower bail or for the defendant to be released without bail. A Private attorney can be hired by the defendant, and if the defendant cannot afford an attorney then a public defender will be provided by the court.

The Bail Process

The bail amount will be based on the severity of the charges, the defendant’s criminal history, and a number of other factors. If the judge decides to release the defendant without bail, then the defendant will walk free without having to post any amount. If a bail amount is set by the judge, then the defendant may post the amount in cash or by personal recognizance bond in order to secure release.

In cases where a bail amount has been set but the defendant cannot post the full amount, a bail bond may be obtained for the needed amount. Once posted, the defendant will be released from custody pending trial.

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