Criminal Justice Process

The criminal justice process is a complex one. it begins with the commission of a crime or the belief that a crime has been committed. This leads to an investigation by local police, the FBI, Homeland Security or other law enforcement organizations. The investigation consists of obtaining reasonable facts that a crime has been committed or is in the process of being committed. If this is established, an arrest can be made. The accused offender can only be held for 24-48 hours without being charged with a crime. If not, he/she must be released.

If the investigation deems that a crime has been committed, a local district attorney will be assigned to prosecute the case. The person charged with a crime has the right to an attorney even if the funds are not available to pay the attorney. This attorney is assigned by the courts.

Unless a full confession is made, the case is referred to a Grand Jury. There it is decided if there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial. This is based on probable cause. Are there enough facts in evidence to warrant a trial? If not, the accused is released. If so, there is an arraignment by a judge. The defendant usually pleads guilty or not guilty although other pleas are sometimes used such as no contest. This means the defendant is neither admitting or denying the charges. The next step is setting bail, which is determined by the judge. Sometimes, if the defendant is gainfully employed and has roots in the community, a defendant is released on his/her own recognizance. If defendants do not have the bail money, they must remain in jail.

After this, plea bargains begin between the district attorney and the defense attorney to see if they can come up with a lighter sentence or other agreement in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty to the crime. If a plea bargain is not reached, the case goes to trial where the judge or jury decide the fate of the defendant. Trials can last one day or many weeks depending on the evidence presented and the complexity of the case.

The defendant must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that a jury may truly believe the defendant is innocent or that he/she is guilty but that there are not sufficient facts presented to support this conclusion. The defendant, if found innocent, is free to go. The record is expunged. If found guilty, the defendant must be given a sentence by the judge or jury. Sentencing may be many years, life in prison or even the death penalty. It could also be something like counseling or rehabilitation in an outpatient center.

Lastly, there is the appeals process. The sentencing itself can be appealed as too harsh or innocence can be maintained. New facts can now be presented that were not raised during trial. This process can go all the way to the Supreme Court that has the final say on the disposition of the case. After this, there are no appeals.

As you can see, this is a long and complicated process. This is not the speedy trial and process guaranteed by our Constitution. Perhaps you can find ways in your lifetime to change this system.

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