Criminal Court Process

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you are likely both concerned and confused about what will happen next.

While all cases are different and progress differently through the criminal court system, Oregon law dictates several stages that must happen in each case. Regardless of who is involved or the offense you have been charged with, your case will abide by the laws governing court procedures.

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Arrest

Your arrest marks the beginning of your entrance into the criminal justice system. There are several rules that the police must follow with each arrest. If they neglect to follow these rules, it could jeopardize the state’s case against you.

From the reason you are pulled over, the way you are searched and cuffed, to the reading of your rights, the future of your criminal case begins with the arrest.

The circumstances surrounding your arrest, and the evidence collected and cited is often the key to your defense. We want to be sure that your rights were looked after at every stage of the arrest process. Your civil rights are protected under the law and we want to ensure that those laws are applied.

First Appearance

When you first go in front of a judge you may feel quite intimidated, particularly if this is your first time in the system.  At this first appearance you will be reminded of some of your rights and depending on the charges against you, you may have the first opportunity to enter a plea.

If you are charged with a misdemeanor, your first appearance is where you will be arraigned. This simply means you are formally charged with the crime and you can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

Regardless of the charge against you, the judge will likely address the issue of bail at your first appearance.

Bail

Bail is simply a promise to appear for future court dates. Not all offenses are eligible for bail. A judge determines your eligibility for release based on a variety of factors.

The crime you are charged with plays a large part in determining if you are eligible for bail. Your criminal history and the likelihood of you returning are major concerns to the judge at this point. He does not want to release someone who will not come back for trial.

You may be released on your own “recognizance” which means no money will be required for your release and that the judge simply trusts your word that you will return. More than likely, though, if you are released, you will be required to put money up as collateral.

Even if bail is denied at this stage of the game, your attorney can ask the judge to revisit it at a later date.

In Oregon, if you are charged with a felony, your case will typically either go through a preliminary hearing or a grand jury hearing.

Preliminary Hearing

If you are charged with a felony and occasionally with misdemeanor cases, you will have a preliminary hearing. This is an opportunity for the judge to ensure probably cause exists for your case to further progress to trial.

A preliminary hearing resembles a trial in that the prosecution (the state) and the defense (your attorney) take turns discussing what they plan to present at trial. If the prosecution doesn’t prove they have probable cause, the judge can dismiss the case at this stage.

Grand Jury

A grand jury hearing, like a preliminary hearing, is to determine if enough probable cause (in a felony case) is present to send your case to trial. The difference between the two is that with a grand jury hearing, that decision is made by a panel of 7 people.

If 5 of the 7 jurors believe sufficient evidence is present, they will return an indictment (formal charge) to the court.

Once it has been determined that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and there is reason to believe that you may have committed it, your felony case is bound over to circuit court.

Felony Arraignment

This is where you are formally charged with a crime in the Oregon circuit court. With the help of your attorney, this is where you will have an opportunity to enter a plea for the first time.  You will also be reminded again of your rights in the court.

Plea Agreements

The majority of criminal cases in Oregon and in the United States end in a plea agreement. A plea agreement, also called a plea bargain is where you agree to plead guilty and the prosecution agrees to lower the charge and possibly recommend a slightly less severe sentence.

Taking a plea bargain is a major decision and one that should be made with a full understanding of the pros and cons to such a deal.

Your attorney can fight and argue for the best deal, and suggest alternatives to some penalties. An experienced defense attorney can also help you understand your options and the risks of any decision in agreeing to  plea. Ultimately, you must decide what is best for you.

Pre-trial motions

Before your trial happens, there may be many motions and delays. Most of these are to ensure that both sides are totally prepared when the trial date arrives. Things like continuances are designed to give either party more time to comply with court agreements, and to schedule and prepare your case.

The prosecution or defense might also ask the court to rule on admissibility of evidence or witness testimony at this point as well.

Criminal Trial

When your trial date arrives you may be relieved it is finally here but nervous about the potential outcome. Every trial is different. Some may only last a few hours while some may drag on for days. All criminal trials follow the same basic format, however.

1.      Opening Statements: Each side, beginning with the prosecution will have the opportunity to introduce their case to the judge and or jury.

2.      Presentation of Evidence: The longest stage of the trial, this is where the prosecution attempts to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime you are charged with. Witnesses will be called and evidence presented by both sides.

The prosecution and defense take turns both in presenting evidence and questioning witnesses. This back and forth can go on indefinitely until both parties are satisfied.

3.      Closing Arguments: Closing arguments are the last opportunity each side will have to address the jury and judge.

4.      Judge’s Instructions to the Jury: Before the jury deliberates the case, the judge will instruct them of their legal duties.

5.      Jury Deliberations: The jury will retire decide your fate. A jury’s decision must be unanimous.

6.      Verdict: Once the jury has reached a decision, the judge will enter a verdict.

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