Although the criminal process is similar throughout the country, some slight differences exist in each state. Here's a general look at what happens if you're charged with a crime in Ohio.

The Arrest

People can be arrested if there's good reason – probable cause – for a law enforcement officer to believe they've committed a crime. Sometimes the arrest is on the spot because the officer witnessed the crime. More often, arrest occurs after investigators gather evidence. Sometimes officers will ask judges for arrest warrants, but that doesn't happen often.

Before officers can begin questioning a suspect after an arrest, they must inform him or her about important rights. Judges can throw cases out if suspects aren't advised of their constitutional rights to remain silent and to have an attorney.

After the arrest, the accused is booked at a police station. The suspect is photographed and fingerprinted, and personal items such as rings, watches and wallets are taken. The accused will have bail set and will either be released or sent to jail.

First Appearance and Arraignment

Within three days after the arrest, a suspect will be arraigned. At this hearing, the judge tells the accused about the charges leveled against him and reviews bail. The accused has an opportunity to enter a plea: either guilty, not guilty or no contest. A guilty plea is rare at this stage.

Preliminaries

Ohio defendants have the right to ask for a preliminary hearing if they're charged with a felony. The hearing must be held within 10 days of the initial court appearance. At the hearing, the prosecutor must convince the judge that there's enough reason to believe the defendant committed the crime. If the judge agrees, the case is set for trial. If he doesn't, the case is dismissed.

Making A Deal

Most criminal cases are resolved when the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to reduced charges or in exchange for a lighter sentence. Ohio judges usually abide by plea agreements, although they don't have to.

Preliminary and Grand Juries

Preliminary hearings are rare in Ohio. Cases usually stem from either a complaint, a warrant and summons, or a grand jury indictment. An indictment occurs when a majority of 12 grand jurors agrees that the prosecutor has enough evidence to indicate a crime has been committed.

The Trial

Citizens can be tried by jury or before a judge if both sides agree to this. Most felony trials are held before juries, and in Ohio, they must take place within 275 days of the arrest. Both sides present their evidence and arguments, then the jury decides if the prosecution has proven the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If all jurors can't agree, a mistrial is declared and the case can be tried again before new jurors. Although Ohio has broad sentencing guidelines, judges are the ultimate authority in deciding about prison or jail time, probation, community service or restitution.

Consult a Lawyer

This article provides an overview of Ohio's criminal law system. If you're accused of a crime, contact a lawyer as quickly as possible so you can get legal advice geared toward your specific case.

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