Steps in the Criminal Process

Ten Steps in the Criminal Process

A complete legal representation is not always the choice of people who have been arrested for a crime. Criminal law can be difficult to understand, and after the arrest, it is hard to get the support needed to participate in a fair trial. The courthouse may seem hostile and intimidating. The feelings of fear may leave you bewildered and alienated from the legal system.

Most people have a basic understanding of the criminal justice system. Although the legal process is complex, the steps are straightforward and are easier to understand than they may seem at first.

Steps in Criminal Process

Arrest and Initial Hearing

When a person is arrested for a crime, they are taken to the initial hearing, which is a courtroom, or if there is a Law Enforcement Agency, to a police station, or if there is no office, to the station nearest to the person’s residence. This initial hearing is where the case is decided.

Preliminary Hearing

The person charged is taken to the preliminary hearing. This is a hearing where the person can ask for more information or challenge a prosecutor’s evidence. During this hearing, the prosecutor can ask for a judge to rule that the person cannot be found guilty of the crime they are charged with. The judge can decide if they are guilty or let the case go to trial.

The prosecutor does not go into the details of the preliminary hearing. They only have the facts to prove that the person is guilty.


After the preliminary hearing, the investigation begins. During the investigation, the police department or sheriff’s department will find out if the person arrested is found to be guilty of the crime they are charged with. If the person is found to be guilty, they will be sent to a jail or jailhouse. The person in jail is then scheduled for a trial. At the preliminary hearing, the people involved in the case may testify. This includes the arresting officers, the person charged, the prosecutor, and anyone else that the prosecutor says was involved in the case. A judge will then be assigned to hear the case.


A trial is a trial where the defendant can testify. This is where they can tell what happened on the day of the crime. The trial could last as long as a week. If the trial is long, it may be one or two days.

Plea Bargain

The prosecutor may agree to a plea bargain, in which they will accept less than the maximum sentence. During this plea bargain, they can accept less than the maximum amount of time. It is not possible to plea bargain if the person is found guilty. However, the accused can plead not guilty.

The court must decide if the person is guilty of the crime. They cannot tell if the accused is guilty, until the trial is over. The court cannot charge the person with a crime. If a person is found guilty, the judge can decide the punishment.

Final Judgement

The final judgment of the judge is the sentence. The sentence is the most severe the court can give, and the person may be sentenced to jail, probation, community service, or another. Even if the person has been found guilty, the sentence can be lenient or even suspended. All of these options are in place for people who have been charged with a crime.