Stages of a Criminal Case

Beginning with the arrest and concluding at some point before, during, or after trial, criminal prosecution occurs in a process of different stages. In a plea bargain, the defendant opts to plead guilty prior to trial or to reduce charges in exchange for a lenient sentence or the dismissal of said charges.


Police officers may arrest a person if they witness the person committing a crime, have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, or under the authority of a lawful arrest warrant. As soon as the person is under arrest, police officers book the offender and place him or her in custody, unless it is a minor offense. If the suspect is granted bail, he or she may pay the bail amount in exchange for release.


The government typically brings criminal charges through either a preliminary hearing or grand jury indictment (federal cases). A preliminary hearing is where counsel questions witnesses and both parties make arguments before a judge. The judge then decides the finding of probable cause.

Pre-Trial Motions

Pre-trial motions are designed to find a resolution for all issues regarding the case and determine evidence and testimony admissible in trial.


The judge or the jury will either decide whether or not the defendant is guilty or not. The prosecution needs to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime charged. After listening to opening and closing statements, examinations and cross-examinations of witnesses, a jury or judge makes a final decision. If the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the judge may declare a mistrial – meaning the case will either be dismissed or a new jury will be selected. If a jury or judge finds the defendant guilty, the court will provide a sentence.


The court determines the appropriate punishment for the convicted defendant. Nature and severity the crime, as well as criminal history, are often factors the court considers when deciding a sentence.


An individual convicted of a crime may request an appeal through a higher court. If that court finds out that there was an error in the case or the sentence imposed, the court may reverse the conviction or decide that the case needs to be retried.