Criminal Court Procedures

When you are facing a criminal prosecution in Indiana, I know you are concerned about what to expect.

What could happen to me? What should I do? When do I need to talk to a defense lawyer?

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One of the many responsibilities of a good defense attorney is to ensure you understand what is happening with your case. A good defense attorney is there to help you fight your case, and help you personally.

You can’t be expected to understand all of the detailed points of Indiana criminal court procedures.  As your attorney our responsibility is to help you makes sense of it all, and make sure you have all the information you need to make the right decisions in your defense.

The criminal legal process in Indiana criminal courts differs from case to case. No two cases are the same. However, most cases follow the same general steps of progression.

Arrest

Your entrance into the criminal justice system typically begins with your arrest. Whether officers were executing a warrant or arrested you at the scene of the alleged offense, there are procedural rules that dictate how an arrest must take place.

There is little doubt that you were advised of your rights. How the police arrest you and how they collect evidence is very important to your case. If they overlook some of the procedural requirements, there is a chance your charges could be dismissed.

Criminal Court – Initial Hearing

Typically within 48 hours of your arrest you will be taken in front of a judge for your initial hearing. Sometimes referred to as an arraignment, this is where you will be informed of the charges against you and allowed to enter a plea if you wish.

You don’t have to have a lawyer before your initial hearing, although it is a good idea to consult with one if you can. If you don’t have an attorney at the point you will be offered a court appointed attorney. If there is no one to consult with, a plea of not guilty is typically the best move, and may be entered on your behalf. After hiring and consulting with an attorney you can always change your plea.

Bail

It is here, at the initial hearing, that the judge will first address the issue of bail. Bail is a promise to return for future court dates. A judge does not have to grant bail; he can hold you in jail until your next court date if he believes you are a flight risk or a danger to yourself or the community.

Many factors influence a judge’s decision to grant bail or not. Things such as the severity of your charges and criminal history all give the judge an indication of your eligibility. Some offenses are considered not “bailable” and the judge will have no choice in holding you.

The issue of bail is something that can be revisited in court. What this means is if the judge denies bail, your attorney can always request he change his mind at a later date.

Criminal Court – Discovery Process

This pre-trial proceeding involves the prosecution showing what evidence they have against you and plan to use in their case. This means that your attorney will be made aware of the proof the prosecution intends to use against you. We can also request additional information about the background of the witnesses, or other information and evidence in a motion for discovery.

Discovery includes witnesses, physical evidence, police reports, and statements. It is during the discovery stage that your defense attorney can interview witnesses as well in a process called depositions.

Pre-Trial Motions

There are many things that occur between your initial hearing and your trial date. Pre-trial motions are requests to the court to rule on things prior to trial. Motions can ask the judge to rule on the admissibility of evidence (motion to suppress), to change the location of a trial, or to push the trial date back.

Motions to “continue” a case, or continuances, can stretch your trial date out. While they may seem frustrating, they are typically in your best interest. Continuances ensure that your attorneys are totally prepared for trial.

Plea Agreements

At nearly any stage in the criminal court procedure your case can be settled with a plea bargain or plea agreement. The majority of criminal cases end with a plea deal rather than making it to trial.

A plea bargain is when, in the interest of getting a guilty plea or other concessions, the prosecution offers you a reduced charge or a lower sentencing recommendation. In some circumstances a plea agreement is the best possible choice for all parties involved. Your attorney can go over the pros and cons of any offer to help you make this decision.

The benefits of agreeing to plea depend on the offer, the strength of your case and the evidence against you, and the likely penalties and sentencing outcome if you are found guilty at trial.

Criminal Trial

When your trial date finally arrives you are likely anxious to get it over with. This is the day that all of the other court appearance and motions were preparing you for. While all trials, like all cases, are different, they typically follow the same general format.

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 are charged with a crime in Indiana, and are concerned about an upcoming initial hearing or pretrial hearing, and haven’t hired a defense lawyer yet, please contact us for a consultation on your criminal offense and what you can expect in court.

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