Criminal defendants have certain rights that every state embodies in its criminal procedures, although how these procedures are administered vary among the states. How Wyoming processes its criminal defendants is briefly addressed in this article.
Arrest and Booking
Persons are arrested on arrest warrants that authorize law enforcement to take them into custody based on probable cause to believe a crime was committed. Other arrests are made where an officer is present when a crime is committed or if the officer has probable cause to believe someone committed a felony offense.
When taken into custody, officers must read you the Miranda rights: You have the right to remain silent; to have an attorney present during questioning or have one appointed if you cannot afford one; and that anything you do or say can and will be used against you.
The booking process occurs when police take arrestees to be fingerprinted and photographed, their personal belongings taken and inventoried, and their identities ascertained.
Bail and Release Procedures
Defendants may post a cash bail, which is returned to the defendant after the case is closed; post a surety bond along with adequate collateral with a bail agent after paying a nonrefundable premium; post a property bond secured by real property; “cite out” with issuance of a citation to appear in court; or be released on one's own recognizance.
Arraignment or Initial Appearance
For minor offenses that are not tried in district court, defendants will be arraigned after arrest. Defendants charged with felonies appear at an initial appearance. At each of these appearances, a judicial officer reads the charges, advises the defendants of their right to retain counsel or to have one appointed if a jail sentence is possible, and to remain silent.
Defendants who are charged with felonies are given an information and a preliminary hearing date. For other matters, defendants enter one of these pleas:
- 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: the same as a guilty plea except it may not be considered evidence in a civil suit against the defendant.
Plea Bargaining for a Lesser Charge
If a not guilty plea is entered, the defendant can plea bargain at any time before trial to enter a plea of guilty or no contest to a charge in exchange for dismissal of other charges, a lesser offense, or a reduced sentence. Most cases in Wyoming are disposed of through plea bargains.
Indictment or Preliminary Hearing Option
Defendants charged with felony crimes are entitled to a preliminary hearing unless indicted by a grand jury. Both proceedings determine probable cause. An in-custody defendant must have a preliminary hearing within 10 days of the first court appearance or within 20 days if not in custody.
If the judge finds probable cause that the crime was committed by the defendant, the defendant returns to court to be arraigned and enter a plea.
Jury or Bench Trial Determination
Defendants facing possible jail time or charged with drunk driving are entitled to a jury of 12 persons for felonies and six for misdemeanors. A guilty verdict requires a unanimous verdict.
A trial before a judge is held in all other cases, including those where a defendant waives the right to a jury trial.
Those convicted of misdemeanors generally receive their sentencing immediately after a guilty verdict or finding. A judge will order a pre-sentence investigation in other cases in conjunction with the state's sentencing guidelines for certain cases. A pre-sentence report examines the defendant's social and family history, criminal background, mitigating or aggravating circumstances, potential danger to others, and possible alternatives to prison if appropriate.
Legal Advice from a Criminal Attorney
Procedures regarding arraignments, plea agreements, pre-trial hearings and others are not the same in all states. Consider hiring a Wyoming criminal defense attorney if you are charged with a criminal offense in that state.