Our criminal justice system is complex, both conceptually and procedurally. 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 requires that criminal defendants be accorded due process of law Due process requires such things as reasonable notice of proceedings and fair hearings when a person is facing substantial negative consequences, such as incarceration.
Stages of a Criminal Case
Investigation: During the investigation of a crime, the police review the facts, interview witnesses and gather evidence against suspect(s). Once the police have enough evidence, they can ask a judge to sign an arrest warrant for a suspect.
Plea Bargaining: Sometimes a criminal defendant and the prosecution can negotiate an agreement that resolves the criminal matter. Usually, the prosecutor agrees to reduce a charge, drop some of multiple charges or recommend a more lenient sentence in exchange for the defendant's guilty plea, often to a lesser offense. A seasoned criminal defense attorney can be a real advantage to a criminal defendant throughout the plea-bargaining process.
Trial and Sentencing: At trial, the prosecutor and defense attorney will give opening and closing statements, introduce evidence and question witnesses. If the defendant is acquitted, the case is over. If a defendant is found guilty, the court will impose a sentence, which may include incarceration, fines, court costs, restitution and probation. Also, before the sentence is issued, the defendant has the right to allocution, which is when the defendant can address the judge directly. It may be a chance for the defendant to apologize, show remorse or explain his or her actions.