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How Do Cases Move Through the Court System?


The justice system is not what you see in the movies or on TV shows. In most instances, a court case involves an individual who breaks the law or violates another individual’s civil rights. Committing a crime is often punishable by fines, probation, incarceration, and in some states, death. The prosecutor often represents the government, country, or state that accuses the person of committing the crime. The defendant is the party charged with the crime.

When a case goes to court, it’s the judge’s duty to ensure that the defendant’s rights are respected, and the victim of the crime is afforded the required statutory rights according to the constitutional provision.

The Full Procedure

Below is a representation of how a case moves through the justice system:

The Defendant Is Arrested

Things begin with the appropriate authorities making an arrest. They may either be arresting a person in the process of committing a crime or one who has committed a crime in the past and has a warrant out for their arrest. After being arrested, the alleged criminal must appear before a judge within 24 hours, or else they should be released.

The Initial Court Appearance

At the first court appearance, the judge determines the defendant’s name and address, and their charges are read to them. The defendant is also informed of their right to legal representation and the right to remain silent. If they can’t afford to hire a lawyer, the judge appoints one for them, and their release conditions are set. However, in different case outlines, the parties can choose to hire an attorney or represent themselves, especially in limited jurisdiction courts.

A Preliminary Hearing

If the court holds a preliminary hearing, witness testimony and evidence are presented to the judge by the defendant’s attorney and the prosecuting attorney. After listening to both sides, the judge decides whether the evidence is sufficient enough to prove the high likelihood that the defendant committed the crime. If the judge believes that the evidence is satisfactory, they will set a date for an arraignment. Meanwhile, the offender is held for a hearing in a superior court.

The Arraignment

During the arraignment, the offender enters a guilty or not guilty plea. They can also plead no contest. If they plead not guilty, the judge then sets a trial date. If they plead guilty or no contest, the judge sets the sentencing date for the crime committed.

The Trial

During the trial, both sides are allowed to give their opening statements, introduce their evidence, direct and cross-examine the witnesses, and share their closing arguments.

The Verdict

If the defendant is found not guilty of the reported crimes, they are immediately released. However, if the court finds them guilty, a sentencing date is set. The defendant remains on release status or is held in custody until the sentencing date.

The Sentencing

After the prosecution proves guilt, a date is set for sentencing to determine the defendant’s appropriate punishment. Both the defense and the prosecuting team give testimony regarding the sentencing. Each side states the sentence they think is suitable depending on the crimes committed.


After the sentencing, a convicted defendant can file an appeal at the court of appeals. However, the Supreme Court could file an automatic appeal if the death penalty was imposed.

What to Do if You Have Been Arrested

If the police arrest you, remember you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Ensure you don’t sign anything, talk to the police, or make any hasty decisions without a lawyer present.

Finding a lawyer that you feel comfortable with is vital. They will be representing you in what will probably be one of the most important matters of your life. In select locations throughout the US, you might want to consider a Ben Crump trial lawyer for your case. With a proven track record, these lawyers can help to keep you out of jail.


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