Criminal Procedure: FAQ

I've been charged with a crime, do I have the right to an attorney?

The Sixth amendment of the United States Constitution gives all individuals who have been accused of a crime in a state court to have the court provide an attorney if they cannot afford one as long as the individual is facing time in custody (jail time).

What Is A Grand Jury?

The court has the authority to impanel grand juries. A grand jury is composed of five to seven citizens convened to consider whether there is probable cause to believe that the person accused has committed the crime charged in the indictment and should stand trial. The grand jury also investigates and reports on any condition that involves or tends to promote criminal activity.

What is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain is an agreement in which the prosecutor and defendant arrange to settle the criminal case against the defendant.  The defendant pleads guilty or no contest to the charges in exchange for some agreement from the prosecutor as to the sentencing.  In some cases the prosecutor will agree to charge a lesser crime or dismiss some of the charges against the defendant in exchange for a guilty plea.  The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved by plea bargains.

What Are My Options After The Arraignment?

Usually, after the arraignment you will either meet with your court appointed attorney or you will select a private attorney.  You will usually have a month or so before your next court appearance.  At that appearance, you will either enter into a plea agreement with the prosecutor or you will set the matter for trial.

What is a jury trial?

In a jury trial, the jurors, typically 12 in a criminal case, decide any disputed issues of fact.  The judge determines all questions of fact.  The jurors are selected by a process called voir dire, where the judge or parties ask the potential jurors questions in order to determine their biases and opinions.

What is a bench trial?

A bench trial is a trial that is conducted by a judge and there is usually no jury.  These are very common for civil lawsuits, but a criminal defendant can agree to a bench trial. Note that in many cases there is no jury. Cases that are tried before a judge without a jury are called a “bench trial.” Juries are usually found in criminal trials.

What is a hung jury?

A hung jury is a jury that has been unable to come to a verdict. The amount of votes in favor of a certain verdict depends upon the state and may even depend upon the type of trial. If a jury comes back with a hung jury, the judge may ask the jury to deliberate again, however if there is too strong a difference of opinion then the judge will declare a mistrial.  If there is a mistrial, then the case may be retried

Who can be a judge?

A judge is the person who presides over a court of law.  The judge has usually practiced law for a significant amount of time before being either elected or named to serve as a judge.  Many times, an attorney will serve as a judge for small or administrative matters.

Can anyone view a trial?

Generally yes, most trials are open to the public. This is because the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution establishes the right of the accused to a public trial. Rarely a trial will be closed to the public if the government can show a very good reason.

What Is a Court Reporter or Stenographer?

A court reporter will transcribe, or write down, all testimony, arguments and rulings as they take place in the court room.  The document that they write is called a “transcript” and is important for potential appeals.

 What is the sentencing hearing?

Except for minor offenses, such as infractions a sentencing hearing is held where the final sentence or penalty is determined. The law gives the judge a great deal of leeway in determining what the sentence may be. The character of and circumstances surrounding the defendant can be as important as the severity of the crime in determining what sentence will be imposed.

The sentence is imposed after the jury or judge has provided the judgment. At the sentencing hearing, both the prosecution and the defense are given the opportunity to present evidence and testimony to recommend an appropriate sentence. The judge is free to ignore these recommendations, even if the prosecutor and defense lawyer have agreed to a sentence as a part of a plea agreement.

What can I do if I lose my trial?

If you lose your trial and there was an error in procedure, law or facts you may be able to appeal your case to a higher court. However, not every case may be appealable depending on what type of case it is and what state the person is inc

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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