Understanding Pretrial Procedure

pretrialThere are different stages of a criminal trial proceeding and everything that takes place before the trial proper is considered part of the pre-trial stage.

Once a criminal defendant is arrested and booked, the wheels of justice start grinding once charges are filed against him. When that happens, the criminal court proceeding starts in earnest.

Most of the bells and whistles during a court case happen during the trial proper itself, but what most people don’t know is that majority of cases are disposed of during the pretrial stage. Many don’t even reach trial at all.

So, what happens during pretrial? Pretrial is when the following takes place:

  • Bail

Once charges are filed against a person, he has a right to appear before the court at the soonest possible time for purposes of determining bail.

The questions that would need to be addressed at this time are:

  • Is the offense with which the defendant is charged a bailable offense?
  • Is the defendant entitled to bail?
  • If he is entitled to bail, how much is the bail?
  • Are there any other conditions that should be included in a defendant’s bail to guarantee his continued appearance in court, to protect the public from any danger posed by the defendant, and to prevent the defendant from committing illegal activities while he is out on bail
  • During a bail hearing, a criminal defendant is already entitled to be represented by counsel, and his counsel can argue on his behalf for a reduction of the bail amount, or that some of the bail conditions set by the judge are not necessary.

Once the amount of bail and the bail conditions are determined, the defendant is free to post bail in whatever form is deemed acceptable by the courts, whether it be through a cash bond or a surety bond posted on his behalf by a bail bondsman. Once the bail requirements are satisfied, the defendant is released from jail, subject to the condition of his appearance during his scheduled court hearings.

  • Arraignment

Arraignment procedures are considered the first formal stage in a criminal proceeding.

During the arraignment, the charges against a defendant are read to him, and the defendant is asked if he has counsel to represent him and if he pleads guilty or not guilty to those charges. Their plea of guilty or not guilty will be entered in the records.

A defendant in a criminal proceeding has the constitutional right to be represented by counsel, and if he does not have the benefit of counsel, then the court will appoint one for him.

  • Plea Bargain

A plea bargain is a quick and easy way to settle a case, but the speed with which it is done is the reason why defendants are guaranteed the right to counsel.

Essentially, a defendant is offered the option of having the charges against them dismissed if they agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge, for which the punishment is also lower. Another scenario is a defendant being faced with multiple criminal charges. To simplify matters, secure a conviction, while at the same time reducing the number of cases that are docketed with the court, the prosecution may offer the defendant the option of pleading guilty to one charge in exchange for all the rest being dropped. All of these arrangements are made before the trial proper.

The reason for this is to increase the efficiency of the court system. If a criminal case is brought against a defendant, it is because the prosecution has determined that there is probable cause against him. But if a defendant pleads guilty, the prosecution has secured a conviction without the necessity of going to trial. But a defendant also needs to be reminded that a guilty plea means that he will be found guilty of the charges, which will thenceforth become part of his criminal record.

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