Stages in a Criminal Trial - US

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The following are the general steps that lead up to and follow a criminal trial. Each of these stages is discussed in greater detail in the pages that follow.

  1. Arrest -- Defendant is taken into custody by the legal authority.
  2. Booking -- If the prosecutor decides to proceed with a case, the defendant is formally charged with the crime and taken to a holding cell. The defendant may be required to post bail to be released until trial.
  3. Arraignment -- All parties appear before the judge and the charges against the defendant are formally announced. The defendant is asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the trial is scheduled. If the defendant pleads guilty, no trial is necessary and the case moves directly to sentencing.
  4. Preliminary Hearing -- The judge hears evidence from the prosecution (and sometimes the defense) and determines whether or not the prosecutor has enough evidence to proceed with the case.
  5. Pre-Trial Motions -- Various motions and arguments are made to determine what evidence can be presented during the trial, who may testify, and what can be done by way of discovery. For example, motions can be made to suppress evidence that has been illegally obtained or to exclude a witness who is incompetent to testify.
  6. Trial -- The prosecutor presents his evidence and tries to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged. The defense lawyer brings his own evidence to rebut the prosecutor's arguments. The prosecutor must satisfy the burden of proof in order to prove his case.
  7. Sentencing -- The judge decides on the appropriate punishment for the defendant's crimes.
  8. Appeal -- The defendant is given an opportunity to challenge the outcome of the case.