9 Steps

of the Criminal Justice System

Crime Occurs

Investigation and Arrest or Citation

Investigation may continue until there is enough evidence to charge. Suspect is "Mirandized" when arrested

Initial Appearance

Judge must see suspect within 24 hours of arrest. It insures the person was properly charged, complaint and affidavit on file are correct, attorney is appointed, date is set for preliminary hearing, and bail is set

Person may be:

  • Released without bail- the court has confidence the defendant will appear at mandated court precedings
  • Released on bail- they post cash bail or obtain security bond

Preliminary Hearing or Trial Information

Preliminary hearing determines if there is significant evidence to support charges. Preliminary doesn't usually happen. Trial information takes its place.

Arraignment and Plea

Arraignment is a formal accusation of the defendant. A plea of guilty or not guilty is entered here.

Discovery and Plea Negotiations

If defendant pleads not guilty, defense attorney can "discover" state's evidence. Can view evidentiary documents and take depositions of state's witnesses. The defendant can change their plea to guilty at any time. Most change their plea to guilty as negotiations proceed.


Case goes to trial if plea negotiations are not successful.

Trial consists of:

  • Opening Statements
  • State's Witnesses and Evidence
  • Defense's Witnesses and Evidence
  • Closing Arguments
  • Court's Instructions to the Jury
  • Jury's Deliberation and Verdict


Some charges have mandatory sentences, otherwise court may order jail time or fine. The court may grant the defendant a deferred judgement and place them on probation. If the defendant successfully completes probation, conviction will be removed from their criminal history


The defendant always has the right to appeal after sentencing. If the defendant pled guilty, they may have waived the right to appeal certain issues but still have the right to appeal at least some issues.