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The Steps of the Criminal Justice Process

Despite the impact that criminal justice can have on our lives, very few people are familiar with the process. Everyone is familiar with the process of getting arrested, but very few people know what happens after that.

Noticing this, I decided to make a quick, easy-to-read blog post detailing the steps of the criminal justice system. To be clear, this post does not serve as legal advice, but rather as a guide that should give you an idea of what to expect. It could come in handy if you or a loved one enters the criminal justice system.

The Process

Most people enter the criminal justice system by being arrested or detained by the police. In most jurisdictions, an officer is able to arrest someone if he or she believes there is probable cause that you have committed either a felony or a misdemeanor crime. Or there may be a warrant out for your arrest. 

During your arrest, the police must inform you of your constitutional rights, such as the right to an attorney or the right to remain silent. Following your arrest, there is a certain amount of time in which you must either be charged with a crime or released. If you haven’t been charged with a crime during this time period, your lawyer can get you released by talking to the judge.

After you are arrested and charged with a crime, you will be booked. Depending on the crime, you could be released or remain in police custody until your hearing in court. At that hearing, you will be asked whether or not you wish to plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” If you choose to plead “not guilty,” the judge may decide whether or not you will be released before your trial or to stay in custody until that date. 

If you choose to plead “guilty,” there is no trial. Depending on the court, you may be sentenced at the time of your plea negotiation or sentenced at a later date. The judge may decide to release you before your sentencing if it is done at a later date.

If you do choose to plead “not guilty” and go through the trial, a variety of things could happen. You could be found guilty and sentenced or you could be found not guilty, and would then be free to exit the criminal justice system. 

What to Do

If you have been arrested, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As tempting as it may seem, do not attempt to represent yourself. Your life and freedom are on the line, so the best thing you should do is leave your representation up to experts. 

If you aren’t able to hire an attorney for yourself, you will have a public defender appointed to you. Remember, you have a right to an attorney, so if you are not given one, that is a denial of your constitutional rights.

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