Very few people have experience with the criminal justice system, unless they practice or enforce the law. Feeling overwhelmed and scared is natural if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Below is a very basic outline of the government’s process for controlling crime and imposing penalties on those who break the law. The law system is incredibly complex and includes many variables, based on the severity of the offense, if the accused is an adult or juvenile, and which state you reside in. Every case is unique; only an experienced Ohio criminal defense attorney can advise and guide you through the legal process to ensure the best outcome.
Step 1: Entry into the system
- Law enforcement receives a report of the crime
- Law enforcement investigates the crime, identifies a suspect, and collects evidence against the suspect.
- If there is enough evidence to implicate someone, they may arrest the suspect or issue a citation to appear in court later.
Step 2: Pre-trial
- A prosecutor collects the evidence from law enforcement and decides whether to file written charges or release the accused without prosecution.
- If files are charged, the accused will appear in court to be informed of the charges against them. A judge decides whether there is enough evidence to charge or release the accused. If the accused does not have a defense attorney, one will be appointed to them.
- Bail or bond? At the initial court appearance, the judge may decide to hold the accused in jail or release him on bail, bond, or on his own recognizance.
- In Ohio, the accused has the right to have a felony case be considered by a grand jury. The grand jury hears evidence presented by the prosecution without the defense present or participating. Then, grand jurors vote to determine whether a bill indictment should be returned, thereby formally charging someone with a felony offense.
- Arraignment: The defendant is brought before a judge to be informed of the charges against them and their rights. The defendant can then plead guilty, not guilty, or no content, which means they accept the penalty for the crime without admitting guilt. If the defendant pleads guilty, no contest, or has negotiated a plea agreement, a trial is not held and the defendant is sentenced. If they plead not guilty, a date is set for the trial.
Step 3: Trial
There are two kinds of trials. A bench trial is held before a judge only. A jury trial is held before a judge and a jury. This depends on how serious the crime is. During the trial, prosecutors and attorneys will present evidence and question witnesses. Then the judge or the jury finds the defendant guilty or not guilty. If found not guilty, the defendant is released; if found guilty, a later date is set for sentencing.
Step 4: Post trial
Sentencing: At a hearing, the judge decides the offender’s sentence. This may include restitution (paying the victim), paying court fines, probation, or jail.
Appeals: If convicted by a jury, an individual can pursue an appeals process that may involve seeking a new trial or petitioning to overturn a sentence.