Legal Process for Criminal Cases in Montana

If you're facing criminal charges, you likely have a lot going through your mind. Knowing what to expect from the process is an important step in getting through this journey in as optimal a fashion as possible. While the criminal process follows the same basic patterns in most states, there are some state-specific differences. Here is a brief rundown of how the criminal process works in Montana.

About the Arrest

When we think of someone being charged with a crime, the first step that usually comes to mind is the arrest. It is important to know that a police officer cannot arrest you unless he or she has a warrant, witnessed you committing a crime, or has probable cause to suspect you broke the law. If you are arreste, know your rights, including your right to remain silent and to be represented by counsel during questioning, as described in the Miranda warning the arresting officers are required to give you.

Your First Court Appearance

Once you are arrested, you should be brought before a judge as soon as possible, without any unnecessary delay. In Montana, there is an option for this appearance to occur via a two-way audio-video conference, if needed. The judge will brief you on the charges against you and your rights, including your right to legal counsel during the proceeding. And depending on your situation, he or she may set bail or release you on your own recognizance.


The arraignment is the official court appearance where you enter your plea. You can plead guilty or not guilty at this time. Or, with the consent of the court and the prosecution, you can plead nolo contendere, or no contest, in all cases except charges involving a sexual offense. If you plead guilty, the next step is sentencing. If you enter a not guilty plea, the judge will set a date for the next court appearance.

Plea Bargaining

Most criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains. For example, the prosecution may offer a deal in which you will get a reduced sentence if you agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge. But these deals aren't for everyone. Your lawyer can help you decide if a plea deal is right for you.

Pre-Trial Hearing

Montana criminal defendants can request a pre-trial hearing in which the court hears evidence from the prosecution and determines whether the case can go to trial. Only the prosecution's side is presented during this phase, although the defense can cross examine and challenge witnesses and evidence.

Your Trial and Sentencing

This is the traditional trial by jury that most of us think of when we think of a case going to court. Both sides present their evidence and arguments, and your fate rests in the hands of 12 jurors. If you are found guilty, you will have a chance to make a statement before the judge hands down your sentence.

A Montana Criminal Lawyer Can Help

The criminal process can seem intimidating to those accused of crimes. Understanding how the process works in your state and being fully aware of your rights can help make it easier. That is why it is so important to retain a criminal defense attorney right away.

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