Criminal Court Process

What happens at a pre-trial hearing? What is an arraignment?  If you are charged with a crime, you’ll need to understand what you are up against when you head into a Minnesota criminal courtroom.

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Facing criminal charges is no easy thing. Being arrested and forced to appear in court is unpleasant and stressful at best. It is particularly hard when you don’t know what to expect. For most people who’ve never been arrested before, they are facing their first exposure to the criminal justice system, firsthand. As your attorneys we can help.

We want you to stay informed about your case. We think it is important that our clients truly “get” what is going on and want to help you understand the process. Part of our job is not just to represent you in court, but to help you through a difficult time.

What Happens At Different Court Dates in Minnesota Criminal Courts?

Arrest

Your entry into the system usually begins with an arrest. Whether the arrest was executed due to a warrant or if the police had to arrest you at the scene of an alleged crime, you are placed in custody and taken to the county or city jail.

Although all cases are different, there are certain steps the police must follow in all arrests. We want to be certain that all of your rights were protected from the moment of you had contact with the police. How the police handled your arrest can impact your case greatly.

Bail

If you are held in jail, your first appearance in front of a judge may be to address the matter of bail. Bail is essentially a promise to return for future court dates. If the judge believes you will not return once released, he can deny bail.

However, if the judge thinks you are a good candidate for bail you will likely be required to put up a sum of money as collateral that you will return. If your bail is denied, keep in mind the issue of bail can be revisited later on.

Arraignment

Your arraignment is where you will be formally charged. You will be advised of some of your rights and typically allowed to enter a plea at this point. Many people haven’t retained an attorney by this point so the best thing for you to do is to plead “not guilty” until you have an opportunity to consult with your lawyer.

Second and Third Court Appearances

Depending on your charges, your second and third court appearances may be referred to as a Rasmussen, Omnibus, or pretrial hearing. These pre-trial hearings are similar to the arraignment but involve more in-depth conversations about the case.

Witnesses may be called at this stage and the defense can request that the judge dismiss all charges based on the police report and evidence at hand. If the case is not dismissed at this point, it will proceed to trial.

Pre-Trial Motions

Things like continuances and evidentiary hearings may seem like a pain, further delaying your trial. But, in fact, many of these pre-trial motions are in your best interest, ensuring that all parties are completely prepared when the trial date arrives.

Plea Bargains

The majority of criminal cases never make it to trial and plea agreements are a big reason for this. Plea agreements are where you (the defendant) agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser charge from the prosecution.

In some instances plea bargains are a good idea for all parties. However, a plea agreement is a major decision and not one that should be made without the consultation of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney.

Criminal Trial

When you trial date finally arrives you will probably feel a mixture of relief and fear. All of the preparation involved in getting to this point has likely left you tired and frustrated. The trial is where it all comes to a head.

All trials are different. But, all trials follow a typical pattern:

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 facing the prospect of an appearing in Minnesota courts on a criminal charge, please contact our law offices for a free legal consultation on the penalties you may be facing. We can help you work out your situation, and recommend your next move.