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From parking tickets to major felonies, criminal proceedings are the basic structure of any court trial. This standardized series of events helps ensure fairness and efficiency for all involved. Beginning with booking and ending at sentencing, this procedure is a cornerstone of the legal system.
Criminal proceedings can either go long or short, depending on the offense. A short criminal proceeding normally occurs with ticket offenses, such as parking, loitering, jaywalking, and other minor crimes. Normally, a defendant can either pay the fine associated with the ticket or attend a brief hearing to argue his case. This type of proceeding provides an opportunity for everyone to defend themselves, but normally takes very little of the court's time and energy.
Misdemeanors and felonies, on the other hand, normally require a structured, time and labor intensive set of criminal proceedings. These proceedings can vary from country to country, but many jurisdictions have similar processes. In the US, five key steps are involved in determining the defendant's guilt or innocence. Many of these will look and sound familiar to anyone who has enjoyed a television show or movie based on a court case.
The first step of criminal proceedings happens after a crime is committed and a suspect is taken into custody. Soon, he will be booked, which means he is properly identified and formally presented with the charges against him. He will next be arraigned and asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge. Unless a defendant defends himself, he will have a lawyer present.
The second step is determining bail. Here, a judge will choose whether or not the defendant can be released from jail until the trial takes place and, if so, how much bail will be. Normally, the judge will base this decision on the severity of the crime and prior criminal record.
Next comes the preliminary hearing and trial. The judge determines whether the case has enough merit to need a trial or the case will be dismissed. The trial is the defense and prosecution's opportunity to argue the facts of the case. Either the judge or a jury will determine whether the defendant is guilty based on the trial.
The fourth step in the criminal proceedings is sentencing. If the defendant has been found guilty, the judge will determine the consequences. Often, this results in a jail sentence, a fine, probation, or some combination of the three.
Finally, the defendant carries out the sentence and the criminal proceedings are complete. If the defendant or the attorney does not agree with the sentence, the trial can be taken to appeals court and possibly retried. There is no specific time limit for criminal proceedings and, depending on the case, can take anywhere from a few days to several months.
The amount of time spent dispensing of any cases -- criminal or otherwise -- has everything to do with how busy the court is in a certain jurisdiction. Ever live in a growing area? Proceedings are delayed tremendously unless and until more judges and courtrooms are added.
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