What Really Happens When You Are Charged With a Crime?

Sarassi Montague

It’s a beautiful spring day.  Everything is going well until your phone rings.  You recognize the number so you answer the call.  It’s your son John.  He’s been contacted by the police or arrested for drunk driving.  You’ve never been through this before.  What happens now??

What if instead of drunk driving John is charged with possession of marijuana, retail fraud, domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct, or minors in possession of alcohol?  What if he has his medical marijuana card but is charged with a drug crime anyway?

Does the process change depending on the charge and the seriousness of the crime?  Does it change depending on whether you are facing a state or federal crime?

The answer is no, and yes.  Once somebody is charged with a crime there is a general process that is followed.  The state process is different from the federal process, but the concepts are the same.  More serious crimes (felonies) are treated somewhat differently than less serious crimes (misdemeanors).  But again, the concepts are the same. 

Because the concepts are the same the general rules can be set forth, though each and every situation is just a little bit different so the general rules are just that – an idea of what to expect, not exactly what to expect.

So, from a general perspective, what’s really going to happen to John? 

First, law enforcement is going forward to John’s case to the county prosecutor’s office or the city attorney’s office. The prosecutor, or city attorney, will decide if John is really going to be charged with a crime.

If it is decided that John is going to be charged, an arrest warrant will be issued.  John will need to turn himself in on the warrant if he doesn’t want to risk getting picked up by law enforcement.

Once John turns himself in he will be brought before a judge for arraignment (the formal reading of the charges). At this time bond is set.

His case will then be set for a pre-trial conference – this is an opportunity for John’s attorney to speak to the prosecutor about the case.  If the case can’t be resolved, it will be set for a settlement conference (very similar to a pre-trial conference) and trial.

Now, there are about a million things that can happen in between all of these steps.  But if you wanted to paint a bare-bones map of how to get through a criminal case, this would be it.

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