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Navigating the Criminal Case Process and What to Expect

Updated: Feb 24

Arrested? Charged with a crime? Unsure of what lies ahead during your criminal case? The progression of a criminal case unfolds through various stages, which begins at an arrest and ends either before, during or after trial. Read the information below for more specific details on what to expect throughout the process of your criminal case.


The commencement of criminal prosecution typically begins with an arrest, which is conducted by law enforcement. An arrest may occur when: (1) a police or other law enforcement officer witnesses a crime taking place; (2): there is probable cause to suspect that an individual has committed a crime; (3): an arrest is made under the authority of a valid warrant. To explain a few terms in further depth, probable cause is defined as a reasonable basis for believing that a crime could have been committed, and a warrant is a legal document that authorizes law enforcement to make an arrest, conduct a search, or carry out other actions relating to the implementation of justice.


After being arrested, the next stage of a criminal process is bail, and whether that will be granted for the suspect in custody. Bail is the temporary release of a suspect awaiting trial after paying an amount of money to a court. There are typically three main factors that a judge uses when considering setting an appropriate bail. These three factors include, but are not limited to: (1) the risk that a defendant will run or flee the area; (2): the severity of the criminal offense that has occurred; (3): whether the defendant had a criminal record prior to this offense. When released on bail, the defendant must commit to attending all scheduled court proceedings.


The initial court appearance that a defendant makes is referred to as the arraignment. During this appearance, the defendant's case is reviewed by a judge. The judge reviewed the charges and this is the point in the criminal process where a defendant selects a plea of "guilty," "not guilty," or "no contest."

Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing is a court proceeding that is used to determine if there is sufficient evidence to convict the accused. This stage in the criminal case process is best referred to as, a "trial before the trial." At this point, formal charges have been charged against the defendant, and the judge decides if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial. However, if there is success in this stage for the defense, then charges may be dropped.

Pre-Trial Motion

If the case is going to trial, then the next step are pre-trial motions. These motions are brought forth by both the prosecution and defense. Pre-trial motions are brought by both sides in order to resolve outstanding issues and to determine admissibility of evidence and witness testimony during the trial.


At trial, the judge or jury determines whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. The criminal defense attempts to challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution's evidence. Following opening and closing statements, witness examination, cross-examination, and jury instructions, the jury or judge reaches a verdict. In case of a hung jury, a mistrial may be declared, leading to dismissal or retrial. If found guilty, the court proceeds to sentencing.


After hearing both the prosecution and defense, the court determines whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. If the defendant is found guilty, then the appropriate punishment is also determined. Several factors are considered when determining this, such as the nature and severity of the crime, prior criminal history, and personal circumstances.


If a convicted individual is not satisfied with the outcome of their case, which may result in overturning the conviction or a retrial if errors are identified in the case or sentencing.


Preparing for your criminal case may be stressful, especially if you're unsure of what to expect. Contact Brinkley Law at 317-643-1813 for help defending your case.

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