While the essential procedures of the criminal justice system are fairly uniform in all states, differences exist from arrest to sentencing. This article provides a summary of how the process works in Alaska.
From Arrest to Booking
- Making an Arrest: Police can only make warrantless arrests in misdemeanor cases if the offense is committed in their presence. For felonies, many arrests are made pursuant to warrants based on probable cause and issued by a magistrate or judge. A person can also be arrested without a warrant if police have probable cause to believe the person committed a crime.
- Miranda Rights: When making an arrest, the officer must inform defendants that they have the right to remain silent, to have an attorney present during questioning, to have the court appoint an attorney if they can't afford one, and that what they say can be used against them. The police must also ask if they understand their rights and if they wish to make a statement without a lawyer.
- Booking Process: Arrestees are taken to a holding facility or jail. There, their personal property is confiscated and inventoried; they are photographed and fingerprinted; they are asked for identifying information and then placed in a cell or holding room.
Making Bail/Release Process
Within 24 hours of an arrest, defendants will appear at an initial arraignment where the amount of bail will be set or they will be held with no bail. Sometimes, defendants will be released without having to post bail. Bail is determined based on the severity of the offense, the defendant’s likelihood of returning for court appearances, and the potential danger to the community. If no bail is set, a defendant may request a bail hearing.
Initial and Post Indictment Arraignments
At the initial arraignment, felony defendants hear the charges against them, are asked if they have an attorney or need one appointed, and have bail set or not. In some cases, charges are brought before a grand jury to determine the probability of the defendant’s guilt. If so, a True Bill of Indictment is presented.
Misdemeanor defendants are presented with a Complaint or Information at arraignment and asked to enter a plea. In felony cases in Alaska, a post-indictment arraignment is scheduled where the defendant also enters one of the following pleas:
- Guilty—You admit to the charges and the factual basis for them.
- Not Guilty—You did not commit the offense or you wish to have time to consider the pleas and offer a legal defense.
- Nolo contendere—You agree to not fight the charges and have a guilty plea entered. This plea cannot be used as evidence against you in any civil trial.
The Plea Bargain
Though technically banned, most criminal cases in Alaska are resolved at a pretrial proceeding or conference where the defendant and prosecuting attorney generally agree to a guilty plea to one or more offenses in return for dropping certain charges or for a lesser sentence.
Right to a Preliminary Hearing and Grand Jury
Felons are entitled to a preliminary hearing on the charges against them within 20 days of their arrest if they post bail, or 10 days if they remain in custody. If a grand jury meets and indicts a felon before the preliminary hearing, the hearing will not be held; both procedures merely determine if there is probable cause to determine a defendant’s guilt.
What Happens at Trial and Sentencing?
- Number of Jurors: Felony trials are tried by 12 jurors in a Superior Court while misdemeanor trials have six jurors and are tried in a District Court. Jurors weigh and evaluate evidence presented by the prosecution to determine if a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on each charge.
- Sentencing: If convicted, misdemeanor defendants are generally sentenced shortly after trial unless the court orders an alcohol and drug screening. For felons, the court orders the preparation of a pre-sentence investigation report regarding their criminal behavior, employment and family history, and other factors. Victims in serious crimes may offer their comments to the court before sentencing.
Get Help from a Criminal Lawyer
Every state has specific laws on how criminal defendants are processed. If you are charged with a crime in Alaska, immediately consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights.