The criminal process deals with a set of rules in the penal code where the government enforces the criminal law. The process incorporates all he legal rules regarding investigating, prosecution, adjudication, and punishment of individuals violating criminal laws.
In the U.S, for example, each municipal and state have their own criminal code that defines types of conduct deemed as crime, and the possible punishments. Similarly, the federal government has its own criminal code; Title 18 of U.S Code outlines the different crimes beyond states’ jurisdiction or directly affect federal activities.
While there can be very many steps in the criminal process, here are the major steps involved.
Investigation and Arrest
The main purpose of an investigation is to gather evidence that will support an arrest. Possible avenues for investigation may include searches (with search warrants), property inspection or police questioning. In all the options, probable cause is the only requirement to warrant an investigation. If police find any link between a person and a particular crime then they will be taken into custody and held until court.
Prosecution, indictment and Arraignment
The fourth, fifth and sixth amendments of the U.S constitution (just like in many countries) grants the defendant a right to a speedy trial, right to silence, right to representation by an attorney and right to a fair jury trial. Prosecutors will therefore weigh the seriousness of the accusation against the evidence collected before charging a person.
On the other hand, a grand jury or the prosecutor can decide to pass an indictment. However, if it is a capital offense, then an indictment is mandatory according to the Federal Rules of Criminal procedure.
Before the trial, the defendant appears before the judge and enters a plea. The most common pleas are guilty & not guilty.
Between the period of arraignment and the beginning of the trail the defendant may be detained or released on a bail. A bail is normally allowed contingent that the defendant will attend court proceedings.
Trial and Sentencing
Based on the evidence, the judge (and jury) will listen to the case and decide whether the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt or otherwise. The defendant may be acquitted due to insufficient evidence. If the accused is guilty, then the judge will read out a sentence. The sentence could be a jail term, probation or fine.
In most criminal cases, the state gives an ultimatum with-in which the defendant attorney can apply for an appeal.