This is the second in a series of blogs about the six stages of a criminall case, and what actions you should take in each stage. See part 1, Initial Investigation, here. Please remember that all cases vary, and stages of a case can happen simultaneously. If you have any questions about criminal charges you are facing, or need a lawyer’s advice, please contact me ASAP for a free consultation. It’s very important to have someone on your side as you are facing the quagmire our legal system can become. Ensure your rights are protected at all times! 

What happens when you are arrested and charged?

Stages of a Criminal Case Arrest and ChargesSometimes, stage 1 - initial investigation - and stage 2 happen almost at the same time. If a crime is witnessed by an officer, or you are pulled over for a DUI offense, your arrest can happen only moments later. In other cases, a lengthy investigation is conducted before an arrest can be made. Sometimes, like for embezzlement or tax evasion, investigations can take months and even years.

Once an officer has probable cause (that is, enough evidence to believe that it is likely you have committed a crime), you will be arrested and usually handcuffed. The officer may read you your rights and question you (For more information on Miranda rights, read our blog on Miranda Rights, and how many people are unintentionally waiving them.). If you are not currently at the police station, you will often be brought there by police car. Once you arrive in the precinct, you will be asked for identification and fingerprinted. After that, one of the following will usually happen to you:

  • You will be held in a cell for more questioning. This is when you should be thinking about asking for a lawyer.
  • You will be released with a citation with a court date and you list of charges. Most common with misdemeanor offenses.
  • You will be held for a hearing with a judge known as an Initial Appearance. This is more common with felony offenses.

Initial Appearance & Bail

If you are held to see a judge the wait is usually 24 hours or less. However, it can be longer. If it is a Holiday weekend you could be waiting 3 days. The Initial Appearance is where the judge will decide your release conditions while the case is pending. Your release can take the following forms:

  • Own Recognizance. No bond necessary. You are free to go with just your promise that you will come back for your court dates.
  • No Bond. This means you are not getting released for any reason. This is only for very serious crimes like 1st Degree Murder.
  • Bond. This is a dollar amount that you must post with the court in order to get released. It can be any dollar amount the judge chooses. Read more info on bails & bonds here.
  • Pretrial Services. This is an extra condition the judge can add to your release conditions. It means you will have someone assigned to you that will keep tabs on you while your case is pending. This could be as simple as calling in and letting the person know your court dates. But this person can also require you to drug test for the court. You could also be given a curfew, or put on house arrest. Sometimes you will be required to wear an electronic ankle monitor.

Formal Charges

arrest and charges stages of a criminal caseCharges are a formal accusation that you have done something criminal. The charging document is the way a case is started in the courts. Charging documents can take several forms, including a citation from the police, a complaint filed by the prosecutor, or an indictment from the Grand Jury. Once the charging document has been filed with the court, the next step of the process, arraignment, begins. I’ll cover the next stage in detail in my next blog post.

What should you do if you have been arrested and charged?

You have rights as expressed when the officer arrested you. Use them! Exercise your right to remain silent, and do not talk to the police about your case. Although some people seem to think they can talk their way out of being charged with a crime, they often end up incriminating themselves. The police are not required to tell you the truth. Officers undergo training to get suspects to talk, and you do not have to tell the police anything without an attorney present. You should be cooperative and polite, but do not answer any questions. Instead, tell officers that you need to speak to your lawyer. Make sure to have a great legal defense, so that your rights will always be protected.

If you’re facing charges, contact Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney Burges McCowan.

Interested in learning more about the stages of a criminal case? Read Stage 3: Pre-Trial Court Dates.