What is Criminal Procedure?

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  • Written By: Alison Faria
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2020
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Criminal procedure involves a set of rules through which a government enforces criminal laws. In the United States, the federal government, states, and municipalities each have respective criminal codes regarding what does and does not constitute a crime. The overall criminal procedure process includes booking, arraignment, bail, a preliminary hearing, a trial, sentencing, punishment, and appeal.

When it has been determined that crimes have been committed, an arrest is made. The accused person begins the criminal procedure by undergoing the booking process. During this process, administrative information is gathered from him or her. This information, which is used for legal purposes, typically documents the crime that the person is charged with. Other information is also usually collected, such as the telephone number, fingerprints, name, age, and address of the accused.

Once the booking has been completed, the next step in criminal procedure is to schedule a date for arraignment. During arraignment, the accused appears in court and enters a "not guilty" or "guilty" plea. A trial date will be set if the accused pleas that he or she is "not guilty."


Setting bail is usually an important part of the criminal procedure process. With a trial date set, the accused may be released on bail, which is a certain amount of money. The amount typically depends on the crime that was committed. The more serious the crime, the higher the bail amount might be, or bail might be revoked altogether. Some people remain in jail until their trial date.

Before the actual trial, a preliminary hearing is often given for the accused. The presiding judge at the hearing determines whether or not the person should actually have a trial. Prosecutors usually must provide the judge with enough evidence against the accused to build a case that can go to trial. If the prosecutors do not appear with enough evidence, then the judge usually has the right to forgo a trial and select another disciplinary procedure for the accused, such as probation.

The trial in a criminal procedure generally contains opening statements, witness testimonies, and evidence. All of this information is usually brought before a jury, who then determine a verdict. If the accused is found guilty, he or she then is sentenced, or given a punishment. This punishment might include fines, community service, or imprisonment.

Criminal procedure usually allows the accused the right to appeal their sentence. In many cases, an appeal may only be allowed on certain grounds, such as new evidence coming to light or misconduct on the part of a trial participant. Such a situation would then require another court date to be set.


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