Criminal court overview
This is a basic overview of how a criminal case works. Each case does not have every step. Most cases do not go to trial. The defendant may end up making a deal with the prosecution (a plea deal). In some cases, the judge may decide there is a legal reason that the case cannot go forward.
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1. Charges are filed
Typically, the prosecutor files a Complaint. This says who is accused of a crime, what crime, and when.
The defendant goes to court. They find out what they're charged with and what their rights are. The judge will ask if they are ready to plea.
3. Pretrial activities
Period before a trial when the two sides share information (discovery), ask the judge to make a decision (file motions), and try to reach an agreement or plan for trial. In a felony case, there will be a preliminary hearing.
If the two sides don't reach an agreement and the judge has not dismissed the case, then it will go to trial. This is usually a jury trial.
If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty by a jury, they will be sentenced. Sentenced means the judge says what the punishment will be.
6. After sentencing
The defendant has a few options. They can try to appeal the decision. Later, depending on the charges, it's possible to have their record cleaned.