Steps in a Criminal Case
1. Crime is Committed and Reported – This may take the form of an emergency call to 911, a citizen filing a formal complaint or an officer witnessing a crime.
2. Investigation and Arrest – After notification of a crime, law enforcement begins investigating and gathering evidence, usually by utilizing a search warrant issued by a judge. Once they determine a suspect, an arrest may be made with or without an arrest warrant depending on the circumstances.
3. Booking – Booking involves making a record of an arrestee’s name, address, and offense charged. The arrestee will be photographed and fingerprinted. Many times the arrestee can post bail and obtain immediate release unless it is a more serious offense, they have a history of failing to appear in court, or they are a flight risk.
4. First Court Appearance / Pretrial Release Inquiry – The judge informs the defendant of the charge and explains to the defendant his right to a public defender if he cannot afford an attorney. The judge then makes a determination regarding pretrial release. This requires the judge to make a determination about whether there is probable cause for detaining the arrested person pending further proceedings. The judge looks at several factors in deciding whether to release the defendant, such as the nature of the current charge, the defendant’s prior criminal record and any facts indicating the possibility of violations of law if the defendant were to be released without restrictions. The judge may set money bail if he determines that no other conditions will reasonably ensure the appearance of the defendant in court or he may release the defendant on his own recognizance. This step is sometimes called the defendant’s arraignment. At arraignment the defendant pleads guilty, not guilty or no contest.
5. Formal Charges – This is most often initiated by the prosecutor filing what is called an Information. Formal charges may be initiated earlier such as prior to arrest.
6. Pretrial Hearing – This hearing is conducted to address pretrial motions, discovery issues and plea negotiations.
7. Trial – If the accused pleads not guilty, and no plea bargain is reached, trial is the next step. The prosecution goes first and makes an opening statement. The accused’s attorney then makes an opening statement. The prosecution then calls witnesses, who are cross-examined by the accused’s attorney. The accused calls witnesses, who are cross-examined by the prosecution. The prosecution makes closing arguments, followed by the accused’s attorney’s closing argument. The fact finder, which may be the judge or jury, then renders a guilty or not guilty decision.
8. Possible Dispositions – If the defendant is found guilty, depending upon the crime for which he was convicted, the punishment may either be one of the following or a combination of the following: imprisonment, fine, restitution, probation, or suspended imposition of sentence.
9. Sentencing – Arkansas is one of six states that practices jury sentencing. The length of sentence a defendant can receive is based upon the classification of the crime he committed. Crimes are classified as felonies, misdemeanors, or violations.
Penalties for Felonies:
- Y felony – 10 to 40 years to life / no fine
- A felony – 6 to 30 years / up to $15,000 fine
- B felony – 5 to 20 years / up to $15,000 fine
- C felony – 3 to 10 years / up to $10,000 fine
- D felony – 0 to 6 years / up to $10,000 fine
Penalties for Misdemeanors:
- A misdemeanor – up to 1 year / up to $2,500
- B misdemeanor – up to 90 days / up to $1,000
- C misdemeanor – up to 30 days / up to $500
Penalties for Violations:
- Punishable only by a fine
Probation is an alternative sentence whereby a defendant who pleads or is found guilty of an offense is released by the court without pronouncement of sentence, but subject to the supervision of a probation officer. The court typically attaches conditions to the probation to which the defendant is required to adhere.
Suspended imposition of sentence is a procedure in which a defendant who pleads or is found guilty of an offense is released by the court without pronouncement of sentence and without supervision. The court typically attaches conditions to the suspended imposition of sentence as well.
An offender who has more than two prior felony convictions may be charged as a habitual offender and could receive an increased penalty because of this status. In Arkansas, we have bifurcated trials, which means the case-in-chief or guilt phase of the trial is separate from the sentencing portion of the trial. The same jury decides guilt and the defendant’s sentence. Victim impact testimony is allowed in the sentencing phase.