So you’ve been charged with a crime by the State of Ohio. You probably know when your next court date is, but may be unsure about what will happen when you go in front of the judge. What is an Arraignment? What happens at a preliminary hearing or pre-trial? are common questions. Understanding what to expect in a criminal court case can be important to reduce your anxiety level. That knowledge, and feeling you have a good defense attorney on your side are key to being prepared for what you are facing in court.
Although there are certain stages that are present in every criminal case, all criminal cases are slightly different. What this means is that only legal counsel specifically tailored to your case can truly tell you what exactly might happen. There are situations when the order of these events can be changed, certain dates may not apply, or others many be included.
Call our attorneys to discuss the specifics of your case with us today. We’ll go over the facts of your case, possible defenses, and what you can expect to happen when you have to appear in a Ohio criminal courthouse.
More than likely your entrance into the Ohio court system began with your arrest. Whether you had a warrant out or the police caught you in the commission of a crime, the arrest should have involved the reading of your Miranda Rights. The police are required to inform you of these rights beginning with “you have the right to remain silent”.
After an arrest, you will typically spend a short time in a police jail before being released or bailed out. For more serious charges, you can be held for a longer time, or indefinitely until future court dates.
Some, but not all offenses are eligible for bail. Bail is essentially money posted as a promise that you will return to court for future appearances. A judge does not have to grant bail and will be cautious when determining your eligibility.
The judge will want to make sure that a) you are not a danger to yourself or the community and, b) you are not a flight risk. This just means that the judge wants to be sure that you will not flee if released on bail.
Arraignment – Your First Court Date
Your first court appearance, referred to as the arraignment, is where you will be formally informed of the charges against you and you will be given the first opportunity to enter a plea. It is also at this time that the judge will inform you of a few rights, including your right to “counsel” or the right to have an attorney.
The preliminary hearing is where the prosecution will show the judge that there is sufficient probable cause to believe that you committed the crime you are being charged with. The prosecutor does not, at this point, have to prove that you committed it, only that there is probable cause to believe you did.
The judge will make sure there is sufficient evidence and agree that the case should move forward to trial or throw the case out if it seems there is not probable cause present. Similar to a mini-trial, the preliminary hearing will involve both sides stating their case and revealing what evidence they might have to support it.
The time it takes for your trial to arrive can be arduous. You may wait a month or even up to a year. During this time there may be several motions filed with the court on a variety of things. The prosecutor and your attorney will make motions in regard to evidence and it’s admissibility in court, the location of your trial, or asking for more time to prepare for trial.
Continuances are one of the most used motions, designed to ensure both sides have plenty of time to be prepared for trial. Your attorney may request a continuance for a variety of reasons but rest assured, they are usually in your best interest.
Plea Agreements (Plea Bargains)
In the interest of winning a case, the prosecution will typically attempt to bargain with you (the defendant). A plea agreement is one in which you agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge.
For instance, if your original charge is first degree assault, the prosecution may offer to reduce the charge to 2nd degree assault if you plead guilty. The prosecutor may also offer to make a lenient sentencing recommendation to the judge.
The decision to accept a plea agreement is one that should be made with the help of an experienced attorney. They will be able to tell you if it would be in your best interest or if you have a good chance of being acquitted of all charges should it make it to trial.
When the big day finally arrives you will probably be nervous and relieved at the same time. If you were not admitted bail and have been waiting in jail for your trial, you will be thankful to put the time behind you and hopefully move to a resolution.
Trials typically follow a set routine. All trials, however, are slightly different.
1. Opening Statements: This is where both sides (prosecution and defense) introduce their case to the judge and/or jury.
2. Presentation of Evidence: The most extensive stage of a criminal trial, the presentation of evidence is where the case is argued. Witnesses are called and evidence presented.
This is where the prosecution attempts to prove to the court that you are guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
3. Closing Arguments: This stage is the last opportunity for both sides to address the court before a verdict is reached.
4. Jury Instructions: The judge will instruct the jurors on their responsibilities before they retire.
5. Jury Deliberations: The jury will retire to a private area to determine your guilt or innocence.
6. Verdict: Once a verdict is reached, the jury will return to the courtroom. If you are found guilty the judge will schedule a sentencing date.
If you’ve been charged with a crime in an Ohio court, and need experienced legal counsel to help you, please contact us for a free legal defense consultation.