Criminal defendants are processed in essentially the same way in all states but there are some differences regarding bail, arraignment, preliminary hearings, and other procedures. If you're accused of a crime in New Hampshire, here are a few things you should know.
Arrests are made by police officers when they observe someone committing a crime, or by an arrest warrant issued on sworn application to the court that probable cause exists that the defendant committed the crime. A summons may also be issued, charging someone with a misdemeanor and ordering that person to appear in court. If you're arrested, the officer must advise you of your right to remain silent and tell you that what you say can and will be used against you in court. He has to tell you that you have the right to an attorney and that the court will appoint one for you if you can't afford one. Arrestees are taken to a detention facility where they're photographed, fingerprinted, and asked for identification. Their personal effects are taken and stored. You may have access to a phone to arrange bail.
If your crime is a bailable offense, a bail agent can determine the amount. A family member or friend can post bail without collateral if he or she cosigns a form and has sufficient assets. Otherwise, a premium of about 10 percent of the bail amount can be paid to secure the bond. Cash bonds for the full amount can also be obtained. In-custody defendants must appear in court within 48 hours of being arrested unless it is a weekend or a holiday.
Arraignment and Plea
Misdemeanor cases are arraigned in district court where a plea is entered by the defendant or his attorney. In some cases, defendants don't have to be present if they're not in custody. Defendants are typically told of the charges against them, of their right to an attorney, and how they can qualify for a court-appointed lawyer. Felons are arraigned in superior court. They don't enter a plea until after a probable cause hearing is held or waived. Possible pleas include guilty, which is an admission to all charges, or not guilty, which is a denial of all charges. If you refuse to plea, the court will enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf. If you plead "nolo contendre," you're not disputing the charges. This is treated as a guilty plea, but it can't be used against you if you're also sued in a civil action.
The Plea Bargain Process
Courts tend to encourage plea bargains because of overburdened criminal court calendars and jail cell availability. Before accepting a plea bargain, attorneys consider the strength of the evidence against their clients as well as evidentiary problems and the seriousness of the offense. A guilty plea to a lesser charge or a reduction in sentence may be negotiated and presented for court approval.
Grand Jury and Preliminary Hearing
In felony matters, and if the defendant is in custody, a preliminary hearing is held within 10 days of the arraignment to determine probable cause. If the defendant isn't in custody, the hearing must be held within 20 days. In some cases, the prosecution will seek an indictment by grand jury. If the grand jury issues an indictment, there is no preliminary hearing.
Court or Jury Trial and Sentencing
Trials in district court are usually bench trials only unless the statutes provide otherwise. This means only a judge hears the case. Superior court cases can be either bench trials or trials by jury. Jury trials are conducted before 12 persons who must find the defendant guilty by a unanimous verdict and beyond a reasonable doubt. With a misdemeanor charge, a sentencing hearing may be held immediately following a guilty verdict, or it might take place later. A sentencing hearing is scheduled in felony matters after preparation and submission of a pre-sentence report to the judge. The report includes the defendant’s criminal record, employment history, family situation, and other factors. A victim may be allowed to address the court regarding sentencing. Counsel for both sides can also address the court and challenge the information in the pre-sentence report.
Retain an Experienced Criminal Attorney
As criminal procedures are state-specific, you should retain a criminal defense lawyer familiar with New Hampshire law if you're charged with a crime.