The criminal process begins at the time of arrest or upon issuance of a criminal complaint. In order to arrest or search a person, police must have probable cause to believe that a crime was committed. In some cases, such as a traffic stop, law enforcement only needs reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity may be happening. Prior to issuing a complaint, there may be a hearing to determine whether the arrest was supported by probable cause.
While similar, every state has its own criminal process and procedure. The below is given as a general overview and based on the process in Massachusetts.
Once arrested, an individual is booked at a police station. At a police station, the police will collect all of your basic biographical information and ultimately place you in a cell until bail is posted or you are transported to see a judge.
During this booking process, the police often ask questions that go beyond seeking basic biographical information. These questions can seem mundane, but the reason they are being asked is because the answers are important. Questions such as “how much have you had to drink tonight”, “have you taken any illegal or prescription drugs”, or simply “where were you coming from”, can be seeking information resulting in an admission of guilt for elements of crimes that you are be charged with. Your answer to these and similar questions can have a tremendous impact on the defense of your case.
Only in a very few circumstances is it advisable to answer these questions. You have the Constitutional right to remain silent; it is advisable to use this right.
Not only is it important to use your right to remain silent, if you are being interrogated you have a constitutional right to seek a defense attorney to protect your rights. Once you ask for an attorney, all questioning must be stopped until an attorney is present. At all stages of the criminal process, the presence of an experienced attorney can have an important impact on your case.
After arrest, the individual is brought to the station for booking and given the chance to post bail in order to be released from police custody. At booking, a bail magistrate will determine how much you have to pay to be released. In very serious circumstances, a bail magistrate can determine that you are ineligible to be released until you are seen by a judge. If you are given the opportunity to post bail and do in fact post it, please remember that portion of your bail consists of a fee paid to the bail magistrate for his/her time. This fee is non-refundable!
During an arraignment, the defendant enters a plea and can be released, with or without conditions. Bail is an investment that provides financial motivation to return to court on the scheduled date. If the individual fails to return, the full amount of bail is forfeited rather than being refunded at the end of the case. The factors considered by the court in setting bail include:
In most cases, the prosecutors will not seek that bail be imposed. In situations involving serious crimes or for individuals that have a history of defaulting (not showing up to Court), bail will be sought.
It will be beneficial for you to retain an attorney as soon as possible so that you can be represented by counsel at any hearings involving bail. I represent clients by seeking to have bail reduced or eliminated, which can save clients significant money if they otherwise would need to pay this bail and cause a financial hardship on themselves and their family or alternatively seek financial assistance from friends and family.
Additionally, in Massachusetts there are number of programs that can be requested at or before arraignment as a diversion to the criminal process. These programs include programs for early drug rehabilitation intervention or diversion for veterans who may be suffering post traumatic effects due to their service. In some circumstances, the failure to seek these programs at arraignment is viewed as a waiver. Because of this, it is important to have an experienced Lowell, Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer with you!
After arraignment and bail, the individual must appear for a pre-trial conference during which the prosecuting and defense attorney exchange the necessary evidence. After the conference, the next appearance is a compliance hearing in which the court ensures that all evidence has been exchanged. If there are issues, the individual may move to dismiss or suppress evidence. If no evidentiary issues exist, the individual may elect to proceed to trial or accept a plea.
If a trial date is selected, an individual can select to be tried in front of a jury or a judge sitting without a jury. A number of difference events can happen at a trial date. On a trial date, a case can be dismissed, a plea can be reached, or a trial can proceed. The results of each case are entirely dependent on the facts of the case, an individual’s prior criminal history, and the experience of the attorneys involved.
If you were arrested or charged with a crime, please call me at your earliest convenience. I offer a free consultation and affordable fees. It will be in your best interest to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in the legal process to protect your rights. Without legal protection, you are vulnerable to aggressive district attorneys and trumped-up charges. Do not talk to police, waive your rights, or accept an offer without consulting a lawyer first.