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The Basics of Criminal Défense - Explained

Our criminal justice system is complex, both in concept and in its system of working. To ensure the fairness of the proceedings, each court system has its own rules of criminal procedure that govern the actions of all players: police, defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges and juries.

The US Constitution demands that right through the process of criminal justice, criminal defendants should follow the rules of criminal procedure with all constitutional safeguards duly placed. These include factors such as being given a reasonable notice of future proceedings and fair hearings.

The US government even allows for care packages and communication with someone who’s been jailed, or imprisoned. A service such as Inmate101, that offers these facilities, can also be a great resource in understanding life inside a prison.

Basics of American Criminal Defence: There are 8 stages of criminal defence in the United States. These form the backbone of the criminal defense structure:

  1. Investigation:

While investigating a crime, the police examine the facts, question witnesses and put together all possible evidence against the suspect(s). When they are armed with sufficient evidence, they are empowered to ask a judge to sign an arrest warrant for the said suspect(s).

  1. Arrest and Bail:

Once a suspect is arrested, he will need to appear before a judge, who will either grant or strike down bail, thereby keeping him in jail until the trial. The bail money is returned to the suspect if he appears regularly for all court dates. However, if he defaults, the court keeps the bail money and issues an arrest warrant.

  1. Arraignment:

At an arraignment, the accused is presented before the judge. Here, the judge reads out the criminal charges made against the accused. He also asks the accused if he has an attorney or wants one to be appointed by the court. He determines how the accused will plead to the charges levelled at him and sees if he can modify the bail amount. After this, he sets a date for the next hearing.

  1. Preliminary Hearing:

A judge hearing a criminal case will begin by holding a preliminary hearing. During this, he must prove that he has sufficient proof that supports the charges made against the defendant. If he does, he can move on to the next stage where the defendant's attorney will cross-examine the witness of the prosecution.

  1. Plea Bargaining:

Often, the prosecution and a criminal defendant can arrive at a negotiated agreement to resolve the matter. This could happen if the prosecutor reduces his fee or some of the charges are dropped.

  1. Trial:

When in criminal matters, settlements are not arrived at, cases usually go to trial. Every American has the right granted by the constitution to have a trial in the presence of a 12-bench jury. In order to convicted the accused, the jury must unanimously agree that the defendant is guilty beyond doubt. At this point, the defendant has the right to either waive his right to have a jury trial and choose to have a bench trial where the judge pronounces the accused guilty or innocent.

At the trial, the defendant is empowered by the constitution to present any evidence he may have, or subpoenas that force witnesses to attend the trial, apart from also cross-examining the witnesses brought in by the prosecution.

Though the defendant may testify in his own interests, he also has the right to stay silent. If, in the course of the proceedings, the defendant is found to be innocent, he is acquitted of all charges immediately.

The constitution also provides a safeguard for the defendant by way of double jeopardy. By this means, the defendant cannot be charged with the same felony twice. If, on the other hand, he is found guilty, he is awarded punishment immediately.

  1. Sentence:

If the accused is found guilty, he is awarded punishment at the sentencing hearing. Depending on the severity of his charges, the penalties are levied. These could be fines, imprisonment, restitution, suspension of driver's license, etc.

At this hearing, both the defendant and prosecutor can put forth evidence on the sentence. The judge will take all matters into account, such as the nature of his offense, the defendant's character and safeguarding the public.

The judge can deliver a verdict that sentences the defendant between the minimum and maximum sentences available for his crime. He is not restrained by any pleas that the defendant or prosecutor may make to the contrary.

  1. Appeals

The defendant is well within his rights to appeal the verdict in his case to the Court of Appeals. However, care must be taken to adhere to their deadlines or this could result in losing the right to appeal. However, not all matters may be subject to an appeal.

Concluding Remarks

It would help if the general public is knowledgeable about the law and their rights, particularly in criminal matters. Should an individual ever be arrested for a crime, he should know how the criminal justice system in America works. Else, he should get in touch with a really good criminal defense attorney who will fight hard on his or her behalf to ensure that all legal safeguards are given to his client.