While all states must follow certain procedures mandated by the U.S. Constitution and state laws, most states have certain differences in how criminal defendants are processed in their systems. This article summarizes Vermont’s criminal process.
From Arrest to Booking
Criminal defendants are arrested by warrant or upon probable cause. In misdemeanor cases, officers can only arrest someone if they observe them in the commission of a crime. All criminal defendants must be apprised of their Miranda rights when arrested: they have the right to remain silent; any statements they make can be used against them; and they are entitled to an attorney during questioning or to have one appointed if unable to afford one.
Upon booking, defendants are detained, photographed and fingerprinted. All personal belongings are inventoried. Phones are available to make calls to arrange for bail.
Making Bail / Getting Released
A defendant or a representative may post a cash bail for the entire amount or post a surety bond after paying 10 percent of the bail to a bail agent along with adequate collateral. Bail may be determined by the type of offense, the defendant’s previous record of nonappearance, community connections, and possible danger to the community.
Initial Appearance or Arraignment
Felony defendants appear at their initial court appearance within 48 hours of arrest if still in custody. At this hearing, the charges are reviewed, bail is determined, an attorney is appointed if eligible, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled. Defendants charged with less serious crimes are advised of the charges against them and their right to counsel, and are asked to enter a plea if their attorney is present as follows:
- Guilty: an admission to all charges.
- Not guilty: a denial of the charges. Pre-trial conferences and hearings are held and a trial scheduled
- No contest: entered only with consent of the court; the same as a guilty plea except it may not be considered evidence in a civil suit against the defendant.
Plea Agreement to Avoid Trial
Most defendants opt to plead guilty or no contest to the charges or to a lesser offense to avoid a harsher sentence. Plea agreements are read in open court in felony cases.
The Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury
Preliminary hearings, or probable cause determinations, are held within 21 days of arrest in felony or driving under the influence (DUI) cases or 10 days if a defendant is still in custody. Grand jury indictments are only issued in a few specific cases. If indicted, a defendant is not entitled to a preliminary hearing.
If indicted or if probable cause is determined at the preliminary hearing, the defendant is arraigned for a plea. Only felony cases are subject to indictment or a preliminary hearing, except for a misdemeanor DUI case where a defendant may request a preliminary hearing.
Jury or Bench Trial
A bench, or trial by a judge, may be held in any criminal case. A felony defendant must specifically waive the right to a jury trial.
A jury trial consists of 12 persons who must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and by an unanimous verdict. Vermont provides for a jury trial regardless of whether the offense carries a jail sentence.
If found guilty of a misdemeanor, a judge will generally impose sentence the same day. In more serious cases, a judge looks to the state's sentencing guidelines. If they allow the court discretion in sentencing, the judge will order a pre-sentence investigation report. The report reviews the nature of the offense along with the defendant’s criminal background, social and employment history, potential danger to the community, chance of rehabilitation, victim statements and recommendations for leniency or a harsher sentence.
Protect Your Rights — Hire a Vermont Criminal Lawyer
Your rights and your future are at stake if you're facing criminal charges. Also, no two states have the same criminal procedures, so hire a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights at your earliest opportunity.