The Court Process in the Criminal Justice System

The Court Process in the Criminal Justice System

Just so you know how the system works and what to expect at each stage in the process, we’ve written a summary for you of what will happen at each hearing throughout your case. We will be with you every step of the way. If you have a question, please feel free to ask.

  1. Initial Appearance
    1. We update the court with your most current contact information and give some basic information about you to the court.
    2. We argue for your release while the case is pending with either a signed bond or a low cash bond. We also will argue for what the terms or conditions of release will be.
    3. Finally, we will review the Criminal Complaint and discuss if there are any challenges to it at this stage.
  2. Preliminary Hearing
    1. Any challenges to the Criminal Complaint must occur by this hearing.
    2. At this hearing, the only thing we are looking at is if the State has any plausible account for the case. Basically, only if the charges are completely bogus or if they have the wrong person or something, do these hearings matter. In 10-20 % of cases, we will choose to proceed if there is a reason to do so. We will tell you of our opinion. In rare circumstances, cases can be dismissed at this stage.
  3. Arraignment
    1. This is usually done right after the Preliminary Hearing, but not always. At this hearing we will formally enter Not Guilty pleas on all your charges, and this would also be the time, if appropriate, to raise any mental health disease or defect as a defense to the charges by enter what is known as an NGI plea.
    2. We may also decide to switch out the judge if they are unfavorable for your case at this time. It cannot be after this hearing.
  4. Pre-trial Conference
    1. Some counties have preset pre-trial conferences, where we meet with the DA briefly and obtain a formal offer to settle the matter in your case. This is usually not done before a judge, and it is informal. We will discuss any offer you would like to propose to the DA at this time.
  5. Scheduling/Status Conferences
    1. The Court will set a date for a scheduling conference to determine how the parties wish to proceed in the case, whether or not it appears to be a case that will settle or will go to trial, and to set a timeline.
    2. The Court will also set status conferences to get an update on the case and make sure that you appear and complying with the conditions of your bond.
  6. Plea Hearing
    1. If we settle your case with your goals in mind, this is the hearing that you would enter a No Contest or Guilty plea to the charges, reduced charges, or even a ticket. Sentencing can happen on the same date, but not necessarily.
  7. Final pre-trial conference
    1. If we have decided to go to trial in your case, then this is the final hearing the Court will have to discuss any remaining issues and the rules of the trial. It also might be a point that we could receive a better offer by the District Attorney if they are not interested in trying the case to a jury. It can often be an opportunity to get a last-minute settlement.
  8. Trial
    1. Trial will be an intense and stressful experience. Rest assured knowing that we have won trials and we genuinely enjoy arguing them. We have had jurors come up to us after the trial and congratulate us. We have judges get off the bench and shake our hands to tell us what a good job we did. We have had the prosecutor show us respect in commenting how well we tried the case.
    2. This is our opportunity to convince 12 ordinary people that they should vote for you. We will need to discuss if and how you will testify, and how you must present yourself to your peers.
    3. In rare cases, we will advise that we should have a “bench trial,” which means the Judge will decide the case. We have won these types of trials as well.
  9. Sentencing (if applicable)
    1. This is where the judge will decide what penalty you should receive in your case. This can range anywhere from a small fine to jail or even prison time. We will discuss with you in detail everything we need to consider and how best to prepare for this hearing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I enter a plea or go to trial?

There is no simple answer to this. The decision whether to go to trial or settle the case for a sure result depends on the case. Sometimes it is an easy decision to take a great deal, but other times, it is also an easy decision to go to trial if we have little to lose by doing so. We will advise you of how we analyze your case and what we recommend. We take no hard position on this. We are ready to fight for you in a trial – but not if doing so is detrimental to your goals for your case or if you will be penalized by what is known as a “trial tax.” Our philosophy is to always assess the risk in going to trial and take the safer path. You in the end make the final decision, but we will give you our opinion as to what we would do – if we were in your shoes.

Why don’t you see me every week in the jail?

Unfortunately, we are not able to see you in the jail because we are working on your case or another person’s case, who also wants us to see them in another jail. We do believe that communicating with you is very important for your case and to avoid misunderstandings. When we have an update, we will do our best to meet with you. If you would like a copy of your discovery file, please remind us.

Why is representing me so expensive?

Beating the Government at their own game is not cheap. We must be professional and thorough, and we must be better prepared than the prosecutor. We must know the case much better than the cops who worked on it. What that means is that we need several witnesses too. And that costs money – to hire experts, doctors, investigators, private background report writers, and case consultants. We must put on a very engaging show for the jury all the while convincing them that you are indeed, innocent, or at least not guilty of what the Government says you are guilty of.

Very Truly Yours,
Aneeq Ahmad