The Criminal Court Process

The Due Process Clause entitles every defendant to due process. Arrest is simply the first step in a long procedure. Most cases plead out before trial, in that the defendant reaches an agreement with the prosecution and the court approves the new agreement. For that reason, most cases do not involve trials or sentencing hearings. However, for the defendant who wishes to exercise his or her rights, the prosecution will follow the standard procedure.


Preliminary Hearing


At a preliminary hearing, the defendant will be notified of the charges against him, informed of his rights, possibly provided with counsel, and the defendant will usually be granted bail or released on his or her own recognizance. This begins the judicial inquiry into the merits of the case and the first presentation of the prosecution’s evidence. If the court finds that no probable cause exists, the court will dismiss the complaint.




During an arraignment, the defendant enters his or her first plea. Guilty, not guilty, or a no contest plea are the three pleas usually available. If the defendant does not enter a plea, the court will automatically enter a plea of not guilty. Pleading no contest is usually treated as a guilty plea.


Pre-Trial Conferences


Pre-trial conferences are procedural matters that assist the judge in structuring the case. The attorneys meet with the judge and set the trial’s schedule.


Suppression Hearing


Suppression and evidential hearings are hearings in which the attorneys present all the evidence that they intend to present at trial to the court. The court will then determine what items of evidence will be allowed at trial. Each state has its own rules of evidence, and federal prosecutions must abide by the Federal Rules of Evidence. However, there are general rules in assessing whether an item of evidence will be permitted.

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The most common objections include relevance and hearsay.According to our Montgomery County DUI lawyer, hearsay is a statement made by a person who has no personal experience with the basis for that statement. An out of court statement submitted for the truth of that statement, when not supported by witness testimony or subject to any of the numerous hearsay exemptions, will be suppressed.


Relevant evidence may also be excluded if it is excessively prejudicial. Courts will weigh the probative value of the evidence against the prejudicial value. This means that the courts will determine both how relevant to the case a particular item is against how likely it is to prejudice the jury against the defendant.




At trial, both the defense attorneys and prosecutors present opening statements that will outline the direction in which they believe the evidence will point. After this, the prosecution will present its case and the defense will cross-examine its witnesses. Then, the defense will present its case and the prosecution will cross-examine the defense witnesses. At the end of the trial, the attorneys will present closing statements and the case will be handed to the jury for deliberation. The jury will return with a verdict.




If the defendant is found guilty, he or she will be sentenced at a sentencing hearing. Victims may give victim impact statements.


Every individual has the right to due process. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn.
Katie Hewatt is a legal researcher and contributing author for the Law Offices of Steven Kellis, a Montgomery County DUI lawyer who is a former DUI prosecutor and nationally certified in field sobriety testing. If you have been charged with a DUI, a DUI attorney can guide and defend you through the criminal court process.


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