Although the definitions of crime vary from state to state, the procedures followed by the criminal justice system are almost identical. The criminal justice process begins with an investigation by the local police department, followed by an arrest after significant evidence has been found. Once someone is arrested, the suspect goes to court and a trial can take place. Finally, if the person is convicted of the crime, they face sentencing either by fine, probation, jail or prison time, or community service.
Investigation and Arrest
First of all, in order for an investigation to begin, a crime has to be reported to the police. “A crime consists of a specific injury or a wrong perpetrated by one person against another. The crime may harm society at large, such as selling military secrets to a foreign government, or the injury may be inflicted upon an individual and, because of its nature, is considered to offend society as a whole” (United States Department of State).
Once the crime is reported, the police or detectives in charge would seek witnesses to the crime or speak to people that might be close to the victim of the crime. At the point where the officers and detectives feel that they have a good idea of who committed the crime, an arrest is made. In order to make an arrest, the police have to have probable cause. “This means the police officer must have a reasonable belief that you committed a crime” (Criminal Process in Florida).
When someone is arrested for a crime, they are afforded certain rights under the Miranda warning, including that of an attorney. “The Miranda warnings apprise an arrestee of the right to obtain counsel and the right to remain silent. If these warnings are not read to an arrestee as soon as he or she is taken into custody, any statements the arrestee makes after the arrest may be excluded from trial” (Criminal Procedure: West’s Encyclopedia).
After the arrest, the suspect, the person that the police believe committed the crime, is booked into a county jail. At that time, his or her fingerprints and photograph are taken as well as any statement they wish to make to the police at the time (Criminal Process in Florida).
Arraignment and Bail
After arrest and booking, a suspect is then arraigned and bail, if the judge feels it is applicable to the case, is set. At arraignment, the suspect enters a plea. In the state of Florida, there are three pleas a person can enter at arraignment: guilty, not guilty, or no contest, meaning the suspect does not admit guilt, but does not dispute the charges (Criminal Process in Florida). If the person pleads guilty or no contest, there will not be a trial and the person will be sentenced straight away (Criminal Process in Florida).
If the person says they are not guilty, the case will proceed to a trial. The prosecuting attorney may attempt to get the defendant to change their plea in exchange for a lesser sentence. This is called plea bargaining (United States Department of State). If the defendant still refuses and claims that he or she is not guilty, the trial goes forth.
At trial, the defendant has several rights afforded to him or her by the constitution. These include the right to “a speedy trial, trial by jury, effective assistance of counsel, the right to remain silent, and the right to confront witnesses” (Criminal Process in Florida). The prosecuting attorney is responsible for proving the defendant committed the act and is guilty.
“The best definition is that any doubt regarding the defendant’s guilt should not be fanciful or conjured up to avoid delivering a verdict of guilty” (Criminal Procedure: West’s Encyclopedia). If the defendant is proved guilty, the case moves on to sentencing. If the defendant is proved not guilty, the case is dismissed and the prosecution may not try the defendant again for the same crime as this would qualify as double jeopardy (Criminal Procedure: West’s Encyclopedia).
Sentencing and Appeals
Finally, the defendant is sentenced by a judge. The sentence can range from anything to paying a fine to death. One of the potential sentences is probation where the defendant is watched by a probation officer and stays out of jail as long as they abide by their terms of probation (Criminal Process in Florida). If the defendant does not agree with his or her guilty verdict, they may appeal the decision and the case will be reviewed by an appellate court (Criminal Process in Florida).
Criminal Process in Florida (FL). Web.
United States Department of State. (2004). An Outline of the U.S. Legal System. Web.
West’s Encyclopedia of American Law: Criminal Procedure. Web.