The Criminal Law Procedure in North Dakota

The United States has standard procedures regarding the criminal process that are mandated by the Constitution. However, there are some differences from state to state. If you're faced with a criminal matter or conviction in North Dakota, here are a few things you should know.

Your Rights

Law enforcement can arrest an individual on a warrant issued for probable cause, or without a warrant if the officer witnesses the defendant in the act of committing the crime. If probable cause exists that the defendant committed a felony, he or she can also be placed under arrest by an officer. Before questioning, a defendant must be advised of his right to remain silent, that any statements he makes can be used against him in court, that he has the right to an attorney, and if he can't afford an attorney, that the court can appoint one for him. Booking after arrest takes place at a secure facility where the defendant is photographed, fingerprinted and all personal effects are taken and recorded.

Release and Bail Procedures

If a defendant can't make bail, he must be brought before a magistrate within 72 hours of his arrest. He can have someone secure a surety bond by paying 15 percent of the bail amount. Bail is determined based on the seriousness of the offense, as well as the defendant’s criminal record, his ties to the community, his flight risk, and any danger he might present to the community.

Arraignments and Entering a Plea

For misdemeanors, an arraignment is a proceeding where the charges are reviewed, bail is set if necessary, and the defendant’s attorney of record is confirmed. The defendant enters a plea to the charges. Defendants don't necessarily have to be present if they have counsel. In felony matters, bail is reviewed, the charges are ascertained, the defendant's attorney is identified or appointed if the defendant is indigent, and a pre-preliminary hearing is scheduled. If a plea is entered, the defendant can do this in one of three ways. He can plead guilty, admitting to the charges. He can plead not guilty, denying the charges, or he can plead nolo contendre, which means he's not disputing the charges. This is still considered a guilty plea, but it can't be used against him in a civil suit.

Negotiating a Satisfactory Plea

Most defendants plead to lesser charges or reduced sentences to avoid trial and the potential of a much harsher resolution. Defendants and their attorneys usually sign a form advising them of the rights they're relinquishing, and they're also asked to testify in court that they understand and agree to the plea agreement.

Right to Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury

If a defendant who's been charged with a felony is in custody, he's entitled to a preliminary hearing within 15 days of his first appearance in court. If bail has been posted, he's entitled to a preliminary hearing within 45 days. If probable cause is found at the hearing, the prosecutor prepares an information or formal charging document and the case is bound over for trial. The defendant is again arraigned and a plea is entered. Some areas of North Dakota hold a hearing before the preliminary hearing, called a dispositional conference. A plea arrangement is discussed at this time and if there is no resolution, the preliminary hearing is held. The prosecutor can also present the case before a grand jury for indictment. If an indictment is issued, there is no preliminary hearing.

Trials and Sentencing

You can request a speedy trial within 90 days after your arraignment. You're also entitled to a jury trial if your offense is punishable by at least six months in jail. Otherwise, a bench trial is your only option. A jury must return an unanimous guilty verdict to convict you. If you're found guilty, a judge will determine your sentence by following statutory guidelines for certain crimes. A pre-sentence report is typically prepared by a probation officer which includes your criminal history and social situation, as well as mitigating reasons to impose a less severe sentence and any information provided by victims.

A Criminal Attorney is Essential

Specific laws vary in each state regarding the criminal process. Consult a North Dakota criminal defense attorney to protect your constitutional rights.

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