The process of a criminal trial starts when an individual is arrested, or charges are filed for a warrant. Within 2 to 48 hours of the initial arrest, the defendant must have his informal arraignment. During this time, the defendant is informed of the charges against him. If the defendant has not already been Mirandized, he will be informed of his rights. Even if this has already taken place, he will be informed again of his right to counsel. If the charge is not murder, bail will be set. If the charge is for murder, bail may be set at the discretion of the judge. The defendant will then be notified of when and where to appear next, then will be allowed to leave if bail has been set, or he will be remanded into custody.
Initial Appearance Stage
- Charging Documents
- Preliminary Hearing
- The next step is the preliminary hearing if the case is on the state level. This usually takes place 7 to 10 days after the informal arraignment. The defendant goes before a district justice, who determines if the case merits going any farther. The prosecution must prove by a prima facie case that the charges are valid. The prosecution will call witnesses and show evidence. Typically the defense will not (Cannon, 1999).
- Grand Jury
If the case is to be remanded to federal court, there is not a preliminary hearing. Instead, the defendant goes before a grand jury. The grand jury is made up of 23 citizens. Grand jury hearings are private. The public may not attend, nor may reporters be present. The defendant’s lawyer may not even be present. However, the defendant may leave the courtroom to confer with his attorney when he feels the need. Unlike actual trials, guilt may be inferred by the defendant exercising his right not to testify.
Trial by Jury Stage
After 30 more days pass, the pre-trial conference is held. Both the defense and prosecuting lawyers meet with the judge. While pre-trial motions should have already been filed, most lawyers wait until now to file them. The judge typically allows this to avoid the possibility of an appeal. This leads to the guilt phase, assuming the defendant decided not to plead “not guilty” during the formal arraignment. Pleas may be open, meaning they have no involvement from the prosecution, or they may be negotiated. If the defense negotiates a plea with the prosecution, the judge must approve it as well. If the defendant pleads ‘Guilty,’ he is admitting to factual guilt. The defendant may also plea ‘nolo contendre,’ which means no contest. This means the defendant will accept any sentence handed down but does not admit factual guilt. It is no different than a guilty plea for this hearing but prevents a later trial from using a guilty plea against him (Fisher, 2007).
- Further, the defendant may also plead conditionally, stating he will plead guilty but wishes to keep certain appeal rights he would usually lose. Finally, the last guilt type please is that of an Alford plea. In an Alford plea, the defendant is pleading guilty but asserting factual innocence. This happens when a defendant says he is innocent but will plead guilty to a lesser charge to avoid the possibility of a death sentence (Posey, 2005).
- If the defendant had not pleaded guilty and instead stated he was not guilty, the case would move onto the trial phase. First, a jury must be selected. The process of jury selection is known as the Voir Dire. The group that is eligible to be picked to serve on the jury is known as the Venire. The jury may be kept sequestered, meaning they are isolated from the media while the trial takes place to keep them impartial.
- Four theories of punishment or sentencing
- If the defendant had not pleaded guilty and instead stated he was not guilty, the case would move onto the trial phase. First, a jury must be selected. The process of jury selection is known as the Voir Dire. The group that is eligible to be picked to serve on the jury is known as the Venire. The jury may be kept sequestered, meaning they are isolated from the media while the trial takes place to keep them impartial (Pizzi, 2008).
- At the next step, the judge will give opening instructions to the jury. This step is optional. However, it usually takes place since most jurors will not be experts on the law and will need concepts explained.
- Next, the opening statements are heard. The point of the opening statements is for the attorneys to form a relationship with the jury, as well as establish credibility. The prosecution goes first, followed by the defense.
The hypothesis behind denunciation as an intent of sentencing is to state society’s condemnation of the crime that was committed. The crimes in the Criminal Code reproduce the behaviors that our society condemns and that society has deemed do not deal with our value system (Kressel et al. 2004). By itself, the theory is less about inserting blame on the particular criminal and more about defining the principles and moral code that we wait for people in society to stick to. This hypothesis is likely the basis of having the obligatory smallest amount of sentences for certain offenses. Such as the compulsory sentence for murder is life imprisonment, and there is no hold for the individual. For some, the minimum sentence might not be appropriate.
The fundamental assumption with prevention is that the danger or example of punishment will dishearten people from carrying out crimes. Normally the principle is thought to be that if you augment the harshness of the punishment, you will decrease the crime rate. However, there is now substantial research that quarrels with this idea, especially in regards to jail sentences (Holland, 2006). The Sentencing Commission established that there is no evidence of a restrictive effect from increasing the sternness of the sentence, but in its place accepted that any deterrent effect stems from the entire process instead of a particular sentence forced. The effectiveness of this objective in sentencing is consequently questionable.
Separation from Society
This theory is based on the straightforward idea that a person who is in jail is powerless to commit a crime in the neighborhood for as long as they are locked away from the community. This gauge should only be taken with people who cannot be discouraged or rehabilitated in the community since the phrasing of the provision is that it should be used only “where necessary” (Beck, 2007).
This theory is reproduced in the provisions of the Criminal Code, which allow some criminals to be chosen as Dangerous Offenders and to be sentenced to undefined periods of imprisonment. The death penalty is final in separation from society, though that sentence was eliminated from the Criminal Code. However, it might be interesting to know that the murder rates have steadily decreased since the elimination of this sentence. What does it say about the theory of general avoidance when the most severe punishment potentially does not seem to have affected the speed of that crime?
This purpose of sentencing has been a topic of popularity over the years. Rehabilitation is the perfect goal of sentencing because all criminals cannot be imprisoned indeterminately. So victorious rehabilitation to make sure an offender does not commit crimes in the future is the most excellent option to protect the public. It is fascinating that rehabilitation used to be seen as a goal that may well be best achieved through ways such as educational or vocational programs in prison. On the other hand, there is no evidence to hold up the notion that imprisonment itself will fruitfully revitalize an offender (Butler, 2005). Incarceration is usually ineffective at rehabilitating or deterring offenders. As an alternative, the courts have completed a conditional sentence, which is a jail sentence that is served in the community, which will be more useful than sending a person to jail when bearing in mind the objective of rehabilitation.
Once both sides have finished, closing statements begin. On the state level, the defense goes first, and then the prosecution gives its closing statements. For federal courts, the prosecution gives their statements, followed by the defense, and then the prosecution may give another statement.
The judge will then give closing instructions to the jury on how to proceed. The jury will come back with a verdict once a unanimous 12 to 0 decision is reached. The judge will poll the jury to verify each juror has come to the same decision. If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant is free to go. If he is found guilty and he is sentenced to serve time, he will be remanded into custody.
Beck, C. (2007). The Current State of the Peremptory Challenge. William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 39.
Butler, P. (2005) Racially Based Jury Nullification: Black Power in the Criminal Justice System. Yale Law Journal, Vol. 105.
Cannon, L. (2007) Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD. New York: Westview Press.
Fletcher, G. (2006). With Justice for Some: Protecting Victims’ Rights in Criminal Trials. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
Fisher, G. (2007). Plea Bargaining’s Triumph. Yale Law Journal, Vol. 109,
Hoffman, B. (2003) The Case for Jury Sentencing. Duke Law Journal, Vol. 52.
Holland, F. (2006) Improving Criminal Jury Verdicts: Learning from the Court-Martial. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 97.
Kressel, K., Dorit F. (2004). Stack and Sway: The New Science of Jury Consulting. New York: Westview Press.
Pizzi, T. H., Morris B. (2008) Jury Selection Errors on Appeal. American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 38.
Posey, J., Lawrence S. (2005). Oxford: Oxford University Press.