How The Criminal Court Systems Works- The Basics


If you watch courtroom dramas or CSI on television, you may think you have an accurate understanding of how the criminal court system works. However, real courtroom cases are very different.  It’s more akin to a government-run assembly line.

1. The criminal court system starts with an arrest. You will be searched for anything illegal or dangerous.  The police search for weapons, drugs, and associated paraphernalia. You will be transported to jail, where you will be fingerprinted and photographed.

2. The police are likely to ask for permission to search your car and home. If they have a search warrant, they do not need your permission. There is no penalty for refusing to permit a search. Only a judge can make the final determination if a search is legal. There is no reason to help the police. Remember, your refusal to consent to a search cannot be used against you.

3. The police investigate and gather evidence. You cannot talk your way out of being arrested or investigated.  You should be quiet and let your lawyer do the talking.

4. Within a short period of time (72 hours is common) after your arrest, a judge will do several things:

• Provide you written copy of the criminal complaint against you.
• Explain the crime you are accused of committing.
• Provide you with time to hire an attorney or appoint you an attorney, if you cannot afford one.
• Explain plea options to you.

5. Assuming you enter a plea of not guilty, you may be released, released on bond (if you can pay) or held without bond. A pre-trial or a trial date will be set.

6. Until your trial, the police and the prosecutor will investigate and prepare for the trial. Your lawyer will do the same for you. Cooperate fully with your lawyer and avoid talking to anyone about your case.  Remember that the police may question your friends and your family.

7. A plea bargain is frequently reached before the trial. Just because there is a trial date does not mean there will be a trial. It is possible the case will be dropped, depending on what information is discovered during the investigation process.

8. The order of a jury trial is:

• Jury Selection
• Opening Statements
• Prosecution Case
• Defense Case
• Closing Argument
• Jury instructions (if a jury trial)
• Deliberations and verdict.

9. Outcome: Depending on the verdict, you can be found guilty, not guilty, or a mistrial can be declared. In the case of a mistrial, a new trial date will be set. If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the judge will later impose a sentence.

The criminal court system differs from the portrayal shown on TV. Make yourself aware of the basics. Your attorney is trained in the details. The trial process has specific procedures and rules that must be followed. While some people attempt to represent themselves in court, the results are often disastrous.  Hire Criminal Defense Lawyers who can really help!