The Criminal Process
1. The Stop
You may be stopped for questioning by the police. A stop occurs when a police officer detains you to ask you questions, but that does not move you to a different location. A police officer should not stop you unless he/she has a reasonable belief that you have violated the law.
Even though you are not under arrest at this point, you do not have to answer any questions that the police officer asks you. The police may also ask to search you or your vehicle. The police officer cannot search your car without your consent unless he has "probable cause". "Probable cause" is a legal determination that you won't be able to challenge until later.
The police officer may perform a search anyway, but if it is later determined that there was not probable cause, at least you won't have consented to the search. The police officer could decide at this point that there is no reason to arrest you and your involvement in the criminal process could end here.
2. The Arrest
Each jurisdiction has different rules regarding when an individual can be placed under arrest. In general, an officer can arrest you if he has probable cause to believe that you committed a felony, or if he sees you commit a misdemeanor, or if there is a warrant for your arrest. When you are arrested you will be taken into police custody. If you are placed under arrest, the police must inform you of your constitutional rights or more commonly known as your Miranda rights.
3. The Booking
After you are arrested and charged with a crime you will be booked; you will be finger printed; your name and the crime that you have been charged with will be entered into the official police record; your personal belongings will be taken from you for safe keeping while you are in custody. Depending on the charge and the circumstances of your case, you may be released and ordered to appear for your hearing in court. You may be released on your own recognizance or you may have to put up a certain amount of bail to secure your release. In other instances, you may remain in police custody until there is a court hearing on your release
4. The Sentencing
If you enter a plea of no contest or of guilty, there will not be a trial. In this situation, you will either be sentenced immediately or at a later time. If you are sentenced at some point in the future, the judge will determine if you will be held or released and ordered to appear at a later time
5. The Trial
If you entered a not guilty plea you will have a trial. At the end of your trial, if you are found not guilty, you will be free to go, and, for you, the criminal process will end at that point. If you are found guilty, you will go through the sentencing process as described above. Having a lawyer with experience in criminal defense can make a tremendous difference to the outcome, while helping you through every stage of the criminal process.