Navigating the court system can be intimidating for anyone, but the stakes are especially high if you're facing misdemeanor or felony charges. While the process follows a similar pattern in all states, the criminal process varies a bit across state lines. Here's a rundown of what criminal defendants in Washington, D.C. can expect.
Police officers must follow special procedures when arresting a person. A mishandled arrest can result in the case being dismissed. Officers cannot arrest you unless they have a warrant, witnessed you in the act of committing a crime, or have probable cause to detain you. An officer must inform you of the reason you are being placed under arrest and read you the Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent and have an attorney. You will be taken to the nearest police district to be identified, charged, and booked.
First Court Appearance
Your first court appearance will occur as soon as possible after your arrest, sometimes on the same day. In misdemeanor cases, this appearance is the arraignment. If you are charged with a felony, the initial appearance is known as the “presentment”; your arraignment will come later.
The arraignment is the point in the criminal process where you are officially informed of the charges against you and asked to enter a plea. The judge will make decisions about your next court appearance and other proceedings to follow. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be released on bail bond or your own recognizance. It is crucial to maintain contact with your lawyer and to show up for all mandatory court appearances or you could end up back in jail.
About Plea Bargains
A plea bargain involves the negotiation of a deal between the prosecution and defense in which you can get a reduced sentence in exchange for entering a certain plea, such as pleading guilty to a lesser offense. The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved this way. But plea bargains are not for everyone. Your lawyer can help you decide if a plea deal is right for you.
After you have been arrested, charged and arraigned, pre-trial hearings and motions may be necessary to determine if the prosecution has enough admissible evidence against you to proceed with a court trial. If the prosecution is unable to show it has enough evidence to prove its case, the charges against you may be dismissed.
Going to Trial
While the Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, so much happens prior to trial that it takes a while to get to this point. During the trial, each side presents its case and has the opportunity to challenge the other side's evidence and witnesses. If you are found guilty, the next step is sentencing.
How a Washington, D.C. Criminal Lawyer Can Help
Facing criminal charges can seem like a nightmare. Having a trusted legal representative on your side can ease your worries. Washington, D.C. criminal lawyers are well versed in the legal process for District of Columbia criminal cases. They guide you through the steps and help protect your best interests.