In the United States of America, criminal cases are always handled by the judicial system which follows an elaborate process governed by criminal procedures. Criminal procedure is mainly concerned with the rules and guidelines that govern several legal proceedings which enables the government to effectively enforce the set rules (Ede, 2002). Even though criminal cases are always handled differently, there are some common legal channels or steps that apply to all of them. The following are the steps.
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Stages of a Criminal Trial
The first step is the arrest stage. “An arrest refers to a situation whereby a person is brought under the custody of police officers” (Welsh, 2003). A person who has been arrested is quarantined. In the process of arresting somebody, the police do not have to use force or even handcuffs, unless the suspect tries to resist the arrest (Schamalleger, 2008). An arrest can be made if a police officer finds somebody committing an offense. Apart from this if a police officer has some information and evidence that somebody has done something that warrants an arrest then he can arrest the person (Wellman, 2010).
Booking and Bail
The second stage is called booking and bail. At this stage, information is collected from the suspect. This information is always used for the legal process. The information collected includes the details of the offense and the personal details of the suspect. A date is then set when the accused will be arraigned in court (Welsh, 2003). During the arraignment stage, “the accused appears in court and enters a “not guilty” or “guilty” plea” (Ede, 2002). “If the accused pleas that he or she is ‘not guilty,’ a trial date will be set” (Ede, 2002). Another important process at this stage is the setting of bail. The suspect can be allowed to go back to his residence after paying bail, which is always in form of money. The amount paid for bail is dictated by the degree of the crime. In some circumstances, the bail is revoked and some people are always locked in until the day of trial (Wellman, 2010).
A preliminary trial always precedes the main trial. The judge who handles the preliminary trial can decide whether a person should be tried or not (Schamalleger, 2008). For a case to proceed to the main trial, the prosecutors have to give the judge the necessary information and evidence that will be used against the suspected criminal (Welsh, 2003). If they fail to do so the case can be terminated and another channel can be used to discipline the suspect. “For example, he or she can be put be put on probation for some time” (Wellman, 2010).
After this, we always have the main trial. In this process, the suspect is thoroughly scrutinized for the jury to find his arguments about the case. “A trial is the government’s opportunity to argue its case, in the hope of obtaining a ‘guilty’ verdict and a conviction of the defendant” (Welsh, 2003). If the suspect cannot provide enough evidence then he is automatically declared guilty and he will be “sentenced” (Wellman, 2010).
The Sentencing Stage
“After a person is convicted of a crime, whether through a guilty plea, plea bargain, or jury verdict, the appropriate legal punishment is determined at the sentencing phase” (Ede, 2002). There are so many punishments that can be used to discipline the person who has been sentenced. This includes imprisonment, the person may be asked to pay a fine, or if it is an offense relating to abuse of drugs he can be rehabilitated. There are set guidelines that are usually referred to by the jury when they give charges. This enables them to give commensurate penalties to the convicts depending on the level of the offense. For example, they find out whether he or she had been found in criminal activity before (Schamalleger, 2008). Secondly, they can assess his social status. In addition to these, “they also consider the nature of the crime, how it was committed, and the impact on victims, i.e. whether injuries resulted” (Wellman, 2010). In some situations, an appeal can be given to the person found guilty. For example, if there is fresh evidence and also if it has been realized that some mistakes occurred in the process of dispensing the charges (Ede, 2002).
An Example of a Criminal Case
In the year 2008, a drug baron was arrested in New York by detectives while he was ferrying drugs to one of his hideouts in the city. The detectives had been pursuing him for quite some time and when they finally tracked him down he was charged with the following offenses. The case went through the normal procedures as discussed above and upon reaching the sentencing stage it was handled this way. He was tried and since there was tangible evidence he could not defend himself. When the jury scrutinized his past criminal documents it was found that he had ones engaged in an armed robbery. He had also been found guilty of possessing crude weapons and a rifle. Owing to the several offenses that he was found guilty of, he was subjected to life imprisonment. He tried to seek an appeal but it was not granted to him owing to the degree of his crime.
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From the above analysis, it is very clear that the manner criminal procedures are governed is guided by the judicial principles and laws (Wellman, 2010). It is also important for the citizens to know the legal framework so that they can effectively pursue cases in a better way (Schamalleger, 2008).
Ede, R. (2002). Criminal defence:good practice in the criminal courts. New York: Law Society.
Schamalleger, F. (2008). Criminal justice today: an introductory text for the 21st century. New York: Prentice Hall.
Wellman, F. (2010). The art of cross examination; with the cross- examination of important witnesses in some celebrated cases. Washington D.C: Wiley.
Welsh, J. (2003). Advocacy in the magistrates’ courts. Chicago: Routledge-Cavendish.