When A Criminal Case Goes To Trial
A plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecutor. This may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to a less serious charge, or to one of several charges, in return for the dismissal of other charges; or it may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to the original criminal charge in return for a more lenient sentence.
A plea bargain allows both parties to avoid a lengthy criminal trial and may allow criminal defendants to avoid the risk of conviction at trial on a more serious charge. For example, a criminal defendant charged with a felony theft charge, the conviction of which would require imprisonment in state prison, may be offered the opportunity to plead guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge, which may not carry jail time.
Unless a guilty plea is entered, criminal cases are resolved by trial. The following is a summary of what happens if a criminal case goes to trial.
- Pre-trial motions are made by the prosecution and the defense before the trial begins, and can deal with a variety of different issues.
- Common types of pre-trial motions include motions to exclude certain evidence from trial, motions to prevent certain witnesses from testifying, and motions that the case should be dismissed for some legal reason.
In a criminal trial, the trier of fact (which can be either the judge or a jury) decides whether the defendant committed the crime. The standard used in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt” – that is, there is no reasonable doubt in the judge or jurors’ minds that the defendant committed the crime.
A criminal trial has several phases:
- Jury selection – A pool of potential jurors is gathered, and asked a number of questions. The prosecution and defense each can choose to exclude a certain number of people from the jury.
- Opening statements – Each side presents an overview of the case, from their perspective. The prosecution goes first, followed by the defense.
- Witness testimony – Each side can call witnesses and ask them questions about the case and/or the defendant. First, the prosecution calls their witnesses, who can then be cross examined by the defense. Then, the defense calls their witnesses, who can be cross examined by the prosecution.
- Closing arguments – The prosecution, and then the defense, make a brief statement summarizing their side of the case.
- Jury Instruction – The judge addresses the jurors, explaining to them the crime the defendant was charged with, and the legal standard they must apply when deciding whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of committing that crime.
- Verdict – The jury weighs the evidence presented, applies the proper legal standard, and decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
In most states, a criminal verdict must come from a unanimous jury.
- If a person is convicted of a crime, either by a plea bargain or by a trial, the term “sentencing” refers to how they are punished.
- In some cases, sentencing occurs right after the plea bargain or verdict.
- In more complicated cases, a separate hearing is held on the issue of sentencing, and the judge hears arguments from both sides as to what the proper punishment should be.
- For some crimes, sentencing is explicitly stated by the law, and the judge has limited discretion. For other crimes, the judge has wide discretion in determining the proper punishment.
- Types of punishments can include fines, probation, jail time, community service, and restitution (paying back money that was stolen, or compensating the victim for property that was damaged or destroyed).
- If someone is convicted, and they feel that the conviction was unfair or unlawful, they can ask a higher court to review the conviction.
- An appeal can only be based on a legal error. An error of law must have occurred at some point in the process in order for an appeal to be successful.
- Examples of errors of law include a motion that was improperly granted or denied, evidence that was improperly admitted or excluded, or jury instructions that were improper.
- In an appeal, the prosecution and defense each file written documents called “briefs”, arguing their position. The briefs are reviewed by the higher court, and in some cases the lawyers for each side must make their argument orally in front of the appellate court judges. The judges then decide whether or not the conviction should be upheld. Source
Since 1992, the likelihood of an arrest leading to a conviction has generally risen. Although some defendants think that they can “beat the system” on their own, having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side is the best way to prevent becoming another statistic. If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Law Firm
The Law Firm of Andrew D. Stine is located in downtown West Palm Beach, Florida. The firm’s criminal defense team includes:
- Criminal defense lawyer Andrew Stine
- Eric Centeno, a paralegal fluent in Spanish
- Dan Delois, an investigator with more than 25 years of experience
This team has met and interviewed countless defendants in federal, state and county jails, medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, juvenile facilities, and at numerous crime scenes throughout Florida and other states. When summoned, the team stands ready to represent clients who are in the process of having search warrants served on their homes, barns, out-buildings and even grow houses. The firm offers assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the firm’s emergency phone number: (561) 832-1170.
Many attorneys choose not to get involved in a criminal case until the defendant has been formally charged with a crime. Mr. Stine’s philosophy is the opposite. His experience has proven that there is no substitute for early intervention, which gives his clients a head-start on the prosecution. This gives the lawyer more time to:
- Conduct investigations
- Interview witnesses
- Research all legal options
The Office of the State Attorney in each Florida Judicial District employs “charging lawyers” whom determine the appropriate crime to charge. Lawyer Andrew Stine believes that it is imperative for the charging attorney to know who you really are and to show that you are much more than what the law enforcement agent or victim makes you out to be. That philosophy, along with Mr. Stine’s high level of trial preparation and creative defense strategies, has established an unprecedented track record of success for his clients.
Free consultation 24/7: Call West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer Andrew D. Stine, P.A. at (561) 832-1170. Se habla español.