When someone is accused of a crime, the procedure is similar throughout the United States, but there will be slight differences in each state. Here's a look at what happens in Kentucky.
In Kentucky, people can be arrested if there is a good reason, or probable cause, to believe they committed a crime. Sometimes the arrest occurs at the scene of the crime because the officer saw it happen. Often, though, police gather evidence from the scene and obtain an arrest warrant later. Before officers can begin questioning a suspect, they must tell him that he has the right to refuse to talk to investigators and to have an attorney. Cases can be thrown out of court if suspects aren't advised of these Miranda rights, which are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
After the arrest, the accused is taken to a detention facility for booking. This process includes photographing and fingerprinting. Officials record information such as birthdate and address, and check for any criminal history. Personal items such as clothing, cash, and credit cards are taken for safekeeping.
A suspect's first appearance in court is at the arraignment. Usually within 24 hours of arrest, a district judge will appoint an attorney if the accused doesn't have one, determine if there was probable cause for the arrest, and set bail. The more serious the crime, the higher the amount of bail. If the crime is a misdemeanor, the accused enters a plea at the arraignment.
A preliminary hearing sometimes is held within 10 days of the arrest for felony suspects who are in jail and within 20 days for those who aren't. At this hearing, the commonwealth attorney presents enough evidence to try to convince the district judge that there's probable cause to believe the suspect committed the crime charged. If the judge agrees, the case is referred to the grand jury. If he doesn't, the case is dismissed.
Preliminary Hearing Options
In Kentucky, suspects can waive the right to a preliminary hearing, and the case goes directly to the grand jury. Prosecutors also can take cases directly to grand juries, a method often used in long-running investigations. At the grand jury proceeding, the prosecution outlines its case, police officers testify, and the grand jurors decide if there's enough reason for an indictment. If there is an indictment, the case then goes to circuit court where the accused is arraigned again.
Many criminal cases are resolved through agreements where the prosecutor agrees to let the defendant plead guilty or no contest to a lesser crime in exchange for a lighter sentence. Judges don't have to accept plea agreements, though they do in most cases.
Going to Trial
In Kentucky, people can be tried either by a jury or by a judge. Most often, criminal cases are heard before juries. At the trial, the prosecution and defense present their evidence and opposing arguments. The jury then decides on guilt or innocence. If the jury can't agree on a unanimous verdict, the case can be tried again before new jurors.
The same jury may recommend a sentence in the sentencing phase of the trial. The actual sentence, though, is determined at the judge's discretion.
Consult a Lawyer
This article is intended as an overview of Kentucky's criminal law system. If you're suspected of a crime, contact a lawyer who specializes in criminal law as quickly as possible to get legal advice geared toward your specific case.