Criminal defendants have certain procedural rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, though the states are free to vary these procedures so long as they do not unduly infringe on these rights. The following article summarizes how Mississippi processes its criminal defendants.
Your Rights Once Arrested
Arrests are made generally by a judge-issued warrant or by a police officer observing a crime in process. Law enforcement may also arrest someone if it has probable cause to believe the person committed a criminal offense.
Miranda rights are routinely given upon arrest to defendants, advising them that they have the right to remain silent and that anything they say will be used against them in court. On being questioned, defendants have the right to have their attorney present or to have one appointed if they are indigent.
Persons arrested are brought to a detention facility. Booking consists of being photographed and fingerprinted, while all personal belongings are taken away and stored.
How Bail Works in Mississippi
Most bail amounts are determined based on the defendant’s community connections, employment status, reputation and mental condition, danger to the community and likelihood of making all court appearances.
Bail can be paid by a cash bond for the entire amount, by a property bond or a lien on your property, or more commonly by a bail bond upon payment to a bail agent of a nonrefundable premium of 10 percent of the bail amount.
Defendants who remain in custody are required to appear for an arraignment or first appearance within 48 hours after arrest, or within two business days.
How Arraignment Works/Pleas
For many misdemeanor offenses, defendants can waive their arraignments and enter a not guilty plea. A pretrial conference is then scheduled that requires their appearance and is often used to negotiate a plea.
Felony defendants appear at a first appearance and have the charges reviewed. A judge will inquire if the defendant has an attorney. If low income, the defendant may qualify for a court-appointed lawyer. No plea is entered at this time unless the defendant wishes to plead guilty or waives indictment and has an attorney present.
If a plea is entered, the defendant may enter one of three pleas:
- Guilty — Admitting to all charges and their factual basis
- Not guilty — Denying the charges and preparing for trial or pre-trial hearings
- Nolo contendre (no contest) — No dispute regarding the charge, but it is considered a guilty plea (it may not used as evidence in a civil suit)
How a Plea Bargain Works
More than 90 percent of all criminal cases are resolved by a plea arrangement whereby the defendant waives trial and pleads guilty or no contest in return for a reduced sentence or a plea to a lesser offense. The plea must be voluntary and with full knowledge of the rights being waived.
Preliminary Hearings and the Grand Jury Process
Only in-custody felony defendants are entitled to a preliminary hearing to determine if probable cause exists to charge them with a crime. In any felony case, a grand jury must indict the defendant. A defendant can also waive indictment and allow the case to proceed on an Information, a legal charging document.
If an indictment is issued, the defendant is bound over to Justice Court to be arraigned and to enter a plea.
The Trial and Sentencing Process
Felony cases have 12 jurors who must find you guilty by unanimous verdict upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Misdemeanor cases are heard in Justice or Municipal court and are tried before six jurors.
Sentences are decided by judges, who must follow sentencing guidelines for certain offenses with some discretion to deviate based on a pre-sentence investigation report. A probation officer will examine the defendant’s family, education, criminal history, and drug and alcohol use, and then correlate them with the court’s deterrence and corrective goals. A recommendation is made regarding imprisonment, probation, fines and restitution.
Importance of a Mississippi Lawyer
Procedural rules differ in each state. To ensure protection of your rights, consult with a Mississippi criminal defense lawyer or law firm.