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Being indicted with an offence is a bloodcurdling thing. According to law experts, the only thing that scares the accused person is the unknown outcome or the course the justice is going to take. To shed off some of this fears, it is vital to highlight the general procedure followed in search for justice. The interest will be mainly on the course taken for felony case in the State Criminal Justice System. Though, this procedure in this paper may not relieve the reader of all the horror that may be haunting him from being on the wrong side on the law, the expectation is that it will be a better relieve. Knowing the procedure that is followed in the determination of a felony case, gives common citizens a head start as to how their case would progress through the system. This knowledge, empower individuals on how to make the optimal decisions for their cases.
Felony is a crime satisfactorily serious to be punished by death or a maximum term in federal or state jail. It is different from a misconduct, which in barely punishable by imprisonment to local or county jail. Felony is a crime calling for a minimum term of 12 months or more in a federal prison. Felony is sometimes referred to as a high crime as stipulated in the US constitution (Carter, 1985). To this effect, it is necessary to understand the procedure that is followed in a case related to felony.
Stage one: The investigation
The first stage in the crime-justice structure is the preliminary investigation. A pretrial investigation may be carried out by numerous agencies. It could be carried out by the Sheriff’s officers, or by the police department or in several other local or state law enhancement agencies.
Most of the suspects prefer to deal with their case individually during the first stage of the investigation. The notion here is that if the suspect can only speak to the one who is conducting the investigation and reveal the truth, that the charges may be dropped letting the go. Here, the investigator entice the suspect to speak the truth promising them that doing so would make things easier the suspect may be compelled cooperate with the investigating officer.
This temptation to tackle felony accusations individually at this level is usually a serious mistake.
Mostly, accused person will turn to the legal advisor, when the case has progressed to the next level, to their disbelieve they realize that they have already done a bladder that would not have happened, if they consulted from professional advocate in advance. Though, at this level issue at hand may seem less serious it is advisable to get an attorney at this very stage of proceedings. A professional legal advisor may make the difference between the dismissal and a prison. Unless one is a qualified person in the legal field, there is a high chance of falling prey of laws tricks and pitfalls.
Stage two: The Arrest.
If the accused failed short of evidence to set him free from the accusation, law structure is going to decide whether to prosecute him or to collect further evidence, substantial enough to send him to the prosecutor. The single thing that the justice system is concerned about at this level is whether there is enough information that a felony was committed. A witness indentified during investigation who claims that the accused committed the crime is enough reason to hand the charges over for prosecution.
The file containing investigation findings will be handed over to the prosecutor, who will review the case seeking whether the prior stage of investigation warrants proceedings at this level. The prosecutor will file an objection along with the likely cause affidavit with the state court, he swears to the filed complaints, and the judges make a credible cause finding. After this, the judge issues a warrant of arrest for the accused. At a times, they will issue a summon, where the defendant is granted an opportunity to present himself volitionally, however, where felony is presumed to have been committed a warrant of arrest is likely than a summon. If the accused can find out about the warrant of arrest prior to arrest by police, it is advisable to surrender. The advantage with this is that, the accused is likely to obtain a low bond, if the bond had not been set on the warrant.
The police are mandated with implementing the warrant of arrest, and they do so by arresting the accused and booking him into the remand. Occasionally, the judges may not set a bond at all; in this case, the defendant has to stay in jail awaiting the hearing, which should happen within 24 hours after arrest. A bond may be set after the hearing. However, the 24 hours rule applies only during the working period. To this effect, if accused is arrested on a Friday evening, then he has to remain in until the next working day, which is Monday. Hence, it is advisable for anyone intending to surrender before arrest, to do so from Sunday to Thursday.
Stage three: The Magistrate Court Arraignment
Once the accused person surrender or is arrested, the case will be allocated time for the initial appearance. It is the right of the defendant to be arraigned in court within 24 hours of arrest, unless for some exceptional circumstances, such as weekend or during public holiday, where the court is not working. During the first hearing, the accursed will be taken through his right. He is informed of the rights to know the charges presented against him and the right to remain silent, the right to seek attorney’s services, the right to bail, the right to communicate with the family and his lawyer, and the right to the initial hearing. The defendant is notified of the nature of charge arraigned against him, and he has the rights to have the accusations heard in open court. The most overriding concern that is handled at this third stage of initial appearance is the bond. If a bond is denied, the defendant is retained in custody. The judges are faced with two crucial apprehensions, when setting bail: the possibility that accused will appear before the court in the future, and the risk of the defendant violating the law further once his out on bail. There is also a possibility of the accused to interfere with investigations. A qualified advocate will provide satisfying information, evidence, arguments, and facts before the judge to persuade him that his client will be appearing at court to answer all summonses, and that he is not a risk to the public. During the bond hearing, everything of the past will not count against the defendant, though the prosecutor will try to back up his accusation against the culprit using recorded past events.
Stage Four: The Preliminary Hearing
At the preliminary hearing, the case is still in magistrate court being presided over by a magistrate judge. Before the case is handed over to a district court, a grand jury or magistrate judge must have made his finding, that there is enough evidence that an unlawful act was committed, and the accused is the person who is the most probable culprit. To some defendants this stage is assumed to be a mini-trial; though it has been qualified that isn't a prediction of the actual trial. The typical of proof is much inferior; there is no need for the prosecutor to prove their stand regarding the case beyond any reasonable doubt. The task of proving is left to be done at the jury trial. Grand juries hearing does not need the accused or his advocate to be present during proceedings (ex parte hearing). Consequently, the attorney does not have a chance to cross examine the prosecutor witness or produce your own witness before the jury. However, during the preliminary hearing the advocate may have an opportunity to examine the evidence produced by the witnesses and sermon his defense witnesses. On the occasion, the grand jury concludes that there is enough evidence to carry on the proceeding; the case will be forwarded to the next level court. For the case to be forwarded to the next level court need not be support by evidence.
Occasionally, the prosecutor office will challenge a resolution of the proceeding at the fourth stage. In case the accused rush for this advantage, then he is demanded to waive the hearing at the preliminary stage. By waive, the defendant accepts the offer presented to him by the states, and agree to relieve the state the effort of presenting their supporting materials to the magistrate judge. This is a tactical resolution (William and James, 2002). For some instances, it is an optimal chance to gather the witness evidence recorded. However, this is not always the case. The accused may lose nothing by making this decision or he may lose everything. It is at such a cross road that the legal advisor is needed to give the best way forward.
Stage Five: the Entry of Plea
Once the case is bound over to the district magistrate, it will be arraigned in the district court. The judge who takes the assignment to determine the course of the case will be one to hear the proceeding to the remaining session. At the entry of plea, the hearing judge will provide the defendant with the charging document. This is the information, which contains the complaint. The accused retains his freedom of being provided with all his rights, which will be read to him. The accused is taken through the possible consequences of appealing to be guilty to the charges, and retain the right to present his plea. There are three choices that a defendant can make: ask for the continuance, plead his innocence, or plead guilty. The common course of action at this stage is to request for a continuance in an attempt to determine the case with state. Though, the defendant may have received the offer his advocate may still continue to settle with state to obtain a superior deal. If the accused opt for pleading guilty, the proceeding will be settled and next possible thing is the sentence, which may be given immediately or after some times. The time period is determined by the jury. In an occasion that the defendant pleads his innocence, then the proceeding will be prepared for a pretrial and jury trial. The last option of requesting for a continuance will lead to the entry of a plea.
Stage Six: Entry of Plea – Pretrial Conference
This is the period between the coming of plea and that of pretrial conference. It warranted for, in the occasion the defendant plead to be guilty it is particularly critical period that may determine the course the entire case is going to take. It is during this time that a complete disclosure of the evidence held by the state against the defendant is completed (National Prosecutors Survey, 2005). It is the window which allows the defendant and his attorney consolidates their evidence and any other support to present before the court. There is a time constrain to the most things that need to be done during this period, therefore; the defendant team need to be organized so as to obtain all the support needed within the set deadlines. This period allows the defense team to study the case thoroughly so as to have a well detailed theory of the case that will enable them to challenge the prosecution side.
Stage Seven: The Pretrial Conference.
This is the hearing that allows the judge to determine whether the defense and the prosecution teams are ready to take on the trial. The judge will have to confirm that all the pretrial procedures have been adhered to. In case of discovery deadlines, the judge will check to verify that disclosures were timely, the teams have a chance to present any pending issues related to the discovery. Occasionally the case may be resolved at this level but, this between the defense and the prosecutor’s office.
Stage Eight: Trial.
If the case is not resolved up to this stage, then it enters into the trial level. Trial can take two directions; it may be bench trial or a jury trial. A jury trial entails selection of twelve judges through what is called jury selection process. This team of judges will act as the fact finders to determine the regality of case before them. The facts are presented before them by both the defendant team and the prosecutor’s office; their main function is to check whether the case and the facts provided before them meet the threshold. They examine the facts to see, if they contain the entire element that a crime was committed by the accused. The prosecutor is tasked with the duty to prove that every element he presents before the judges connects the defendant to the accusations so far assumed. Prosecution side has to prove their facts beyond reasonable doubts. The key difference between the bench trial and the jury trial is that the twelve judges are the fact finders. Defense team enjoys the right to a jury trial. However, the defendant may relinquish the jury trial and give green light to the judges to decide the case (Prosecution of Felony Arrests, 1982).
At this stage, the defense is given the freedom to subpoena his witnesses. He is also given an opportunity to cross examine the prosecutor’s witnesses. At some special occasions, defense team may present an expert witness to give testimony on some issues, which the hearing team may fail to understand unless there is such expert witness to clarify. The accused is free to enter any sort of evidence, provided is exposing his innocence of the charges against him. Attorneys are obliged to adhere to the statutes of evidence. These statutes are usually propagated by the Supreme Court classifying valid and invalid evidence that may be presented before the trial judges. This classification usually creates a tag of war between the defense and the prosecution side as each team tries to disqualify the evidence of the other team. The defendant will poke holes on the prosecutor’s evidence in an effort to nullify it.
Eventually the jury will have the upper hand in determining the innocence or the guilty of the defendant. Whichever the decision by the jury, it has to be undisputed judgment by the jury. In the incident that there is a disagreement among the judge about the decision, the jury is declared to be a hung jury, hence a mistrial occurs. If a mistrial happens, the case is taken back to the state to present it before the judges for a fresh trial.
Stage Nine: Pre-Sentence Investigation
In case the accused is found guilty, or plead guilty to a felony charge, then the proceeding enters the PSI stage. The reason is to establish whether the accused is a possible entrant for community control. This investigation informs the judges the detailed aggravating and mitigating factors that need to be taken into account when issuing the sentence. The investigators work for trial and parole, and qualify the task claiming they are tab unfair in their investigation. A reputable attorney may stand a chance to save the situation, for a fair trial for the defendant, if not acquittal.
Stage Ten: Sentencing.
Once defendant has been proved guilty of felony before a state court, or he pleads his guilty, then he must be sentenced. Felony calls for the maximum possible punishment. However, there is a mandatory minimum sentence. The decisions by a judge may vary, but all are found within the range (maximum penalty and mandatory minimum). The judge qualifies his decision on the basis of aggravating and mitigating factors. The possible sentences for a felony may range from a prison sentence, treatment program, monetary fine, community services, and compensation of the casualty. Though, clean records of the defendant may compel the judges to withdraw the penalty. In case of withdrawal, the sentence is held pending over a probation time give to the defendant. Once the probation period is over, and the judge is convinced that the defendant has reformed then, full withdrawal of the penalty is enacted, and the defendant is set free. However, if the accused defiles the conditions of probation, the jury may enter judgment on conviction, revisiting the previous penalty.