There are 2 million people in prison or jail in the US, making it the most incarcerated country in the world.
Before ending up in prison or jail, those criminals went through the criminal litigation process. Complex and lengthy, it’s this process that ultimately determines the fate of someone arrested and charged with a crime.
If you or someone you love has been arrested and charged with a crime, then you should know a bit about how criminal litigation works in the US. We’re going to tell you all about it and what to expect in this quick guide. Keep reading to learn more.
What Is Criminal Litigation?
A criminal charge results from violating criminal law. Violations of criminal law are thought of as offenses against the community.
Civil litigation is between two private individuals. Criminal litigation involves a private individual and the state, with that individual often represented by a Criminal Defense Lawyer.
The Criminal Litigation Process
After a crime has happened, law enforcement will begin a criminal investigation. When they find a suspect, that person will either be summoned to court or arrested. They’ll then be charged with the crime and the criminal litigation process begins.
After the arrest and charges are laid, there’s a preliminary hearing. In this hearing, the defendant is either given a copy of or read the charges against them. Following this is the arraignment hearing, where the defendant can enter a plea of guilty or not guilty or ask for a continuance.
If the defendant pleads not guilty, a trial will take place. Prior to the trial, there is a discovery phase wherein information, documents, and evidence are shared. There may also be pretrial motions filed.
If the defendant is elected to be tried by a jury, then a jury is selected. If not, a judge will preside over the trial.
Either the judge or jury will reach a verdict after the trial takes place. A sentencing hearing is held if and when there is a conviction and this conviction can be appealed at the Superior Court. Unsuccessful appeals at the Superior Court level can then be appealed at the Supreme Court.
Penalties in Criminal Litigation
Criminal cases may involve summary offenses, misdemeanors, or felonies.
A felony is a crime of the highest seriousness. As such, they carry the most significant penalties. The federal government defines felonies as crimes that are punishable either by death or imprisonment of more than one year.
A misdemeanor is less serious than a felony. These typically carry punishments that involve less than 1 year in jail, community service, and fines.
A summary offense is the least serious criminal offense. Punishment for these crimes involves a different set of rules and regulations, but they’re resolvable without a jury.
More on Your Legal Matters
The criminal litigation process begins when an individual is arrested and charged with a violation of criminal law. Following that charge, they can plead guilty or not guilty, which will determine whether or not there will be a trial. At trial, a judge or jury determines if that individual is guilty or not guilty, and guilty verdicts can be appealed in the higher courts.
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