A Basic Guide to Criminal Procedure

by tylercook on September 24, 2013

  • Sharebar

The criminal justice system is an integral part of society. The potential of becoming the victim of a crime or accused of a crime is significant. Yet many people are unfamiliar with how the criminal process works. In brief, the criminal process is a series of steps for determining whether a crime was committed, a review of the facts of the crime, a determination of whether to take the case to trial, and the trial itself. The following is an elaboration of these steps:

Criminal Complaint

The filing of a complaint is the initial documentation that alerts law enforcement or the court system of potential criminal activity. The criminal complaint is often initiated by a citizen calling the police to report that a crime has occurred. The officer that arrives to the scene will document pertinent information. This report may later be used by prosecutors and the courts, who may then issue a criminal complaint, charging a person with a specific offense.

The criminal complaint contains facts and probable cause for the charge. A criminal complaint may not be filed if it is determined that there is insufficient evidence to bring charges. Also, it may be that the situation is a civil matter, rather than a criminal matter. Should this be the case, a civil complaint may be made by a civil court.

Preliminary Hearing

After the criminal complaint has been filed, the prosecutor presents the case to a judge. The judge will determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with a trail. If the prosecutor is unable to demonstrate that there is enough evidence to charge a person with a specific crime, the prosecutor could pursue lesser but related charges, if there is enough evidence for a lesser charge.


After the criminal complaint has been issued, an arraignment hearing takes place. It is at this time the person accused of a crime appears in court for a hearing. The judge will read the charges, and the accused, or defendant, will enter a plea of guilt or innocence. A third option is to plead no contest, which means that the defendant does not admit to the charges, nor does the defendant contest the charges. The arraignment needs to be held 72 hours after the defendant has been charged. If the arraignment is not held within this time, the defense has cause to request that the case be dismissed.

Pre-Trial Conference

The pre-trial conference is a meeting between the prosecutor, defense attorney, and the judge to determine how the trail will proceed. It is during this time that the details of the case are presented. The attorneys for both sides will make motions as to what evidence will be allowed and who can testify. This is the stage of the criminal process that determines how the trial will proceed.

The Trial

The trial is the final step of the process where the attorneys for the defense and the state argue their case before a judge or jury. The defense will present evidence to demonstrate the innocence of the defendant, while the prosecutor will present evidence to demonstrate the guilt of the defendant. The prosecution has the burden of doubt, meaning that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. The defense needs to present evidence that raises doubt as to the defendant’s guilt.


Terrence McMillan is a freelance writer who frequently contributes material on law topics such as criminal defense, DUIs, criminal procedure, civil procedure, personal injury and other associated areas; to learn more about criminal law visit an established practitioner at Geoffrey G Nathan Law.




Latest posts by tylercook (see all)

No related posts.

Previous post:

Next post: