Following the arrest of a suspect, there are several steps that must be followed before he comes to trial. The accused has the right to an attorney throughout this entire process, and to have one appointed to him if he can not afford one. These steps are for criminal trials in state courts, but are generally applicable to Federal criminal trials as well.
- Indictment - Upon being arrested, a defendent must be indicted by a grand jury before he or she can be brought to trial. During this grand jury hearing, the defendent is not present. Instead, the prosecutor just lays out his prima facie, or initial case. If the grand jury concludes that this evidence is sufficient to indicate that the defendent PROBABLY did the crime, then they return a "true bill", or indictment. They do not have to be certain beyond a reasonable douby, just "pretty sure." An indictment is not an indication of guilt. If the grand jury does not return an indictment, the suspect must be released.
- Arraignment - After a defendent has been indicted, he or she must be arraigned. During this procedure, a plea of "guilty", "not guilty", or "no contest" is entered. If the defendent pleas guilty, (usually as the result of a plea bargain), the judge sets a date for sentencing. If a not guilty is entered, a trial date must be set. No contest means that the defendent does not wish to contest the findings of the court.
- Bail Hearing - As soon as possible following the indictment, the defendent should receive a formal bail hearing. A tentative bail is set by the judge on the arrest warrant; this gives the defendent an opportunity to contest the bail that is set while he or she awaits trial. To determine bail for a particular suspect, the judge takes into account
- Past criminal record
- Gravity of current charge(s)
- Flight risk
- Financial Situation
If the defendent poses little flight risk and the charges are not serious, the judge might release him or her ROR, (Released on Own Recognizance). This means that the defendent is not required to pay bail; the court feels that it is likely that he or she will return to stand trial. In the gravest cases, the judge might refuse bail, thereby forcing the defendent to await trial in jail.
In the interim between the bail hearing and the trial, the only major official proceeding is jury selection.
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