Stages of a Criminal Case

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, you may be feeling stressed or terrified about the situation. Knowing what to expect throughout the criminal case process can help you prepare for what might lie ahead.


Typically, criminal prosecution will begin with an arrest. A police officer will arrest an individual if he or she observes this person committing a crime, has probable cause to believe the person has committed a crime, or makes the arrest under the authority of a judge’s arrest warrant. Following the arrest, the police officer will process the suspect by booking him or her. This means the police will take down the suspect’s information and alleged crime. The officer will also take the person’s mug shot and process the suspect’s fingerprints, which are then entered into a national database. The suspect will be given a full body search, and his or her clothing and personal property will be taken into custody. The booking officer will also check to see if the arrestee has any other pending charges. In some cases, the booking process may include X-rays and blood tests to protect the health and safety of jail officials and other inmates.


Bail might be granted in some cases. If a suspect is granted bail, he or she can pay the bail amount in exchange for release. The bond is based on the defendant’s promise to appear at all scheduled court proceedings. If the suspect does attend all proceedings, he or she will get the bail money back. In other cases, a suspect may be released on his or her own recognizance. Own recognizance means the defendant promises in writing to appear at all scheduled court proceedings.


The arraignment is the defendant’s first court appearance. During this time, a judge will read the charges filed against the accused, and the accused can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the accusations. The judge will also review the suspect’s bail and will set dates for future proceedings.

Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury Indictment

The government will bring criminal charges either by a bill of information secured by a preliminary hearing or by grand jury indictment. The federal government must use grand jury indictment, but states have the option of using either. Both are used to establish probable cause. If there is insufficient evidence of the crime, a defendant will not be forced to stand trial.

In a preliminary hearing, the counsel questions witnesses and both parties make arguments. The judge will then make the ultimate finding of probable cause. In a grand jury, however, only the prosecutor may make an argument. The jury may call their own witnesses and request that further investigations be performed. They then decide whether sufficient evidence is present to indict the accused.

Pre-Trial Motions

The prosecution and the defense might both bring pre-trial motions to resolve final issues and establish what evidence and testimony will be admissible at trial. The importance of this step will depend on the type of case, the severity of the crime, the strength of the prosecution’s case, and several other factors. A criminal defense attorney can even motion to dismiss in some cases if he or she can prove there is a lack of evidence, jurisdiction, or for other reasons.


At a trial, a judge or the jury will find the defendant guilty or not guilty. The prosecution’s job will be to prove the evidence accrued points to the accused's guilt. He or she must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant committed the crimes. A judge or jury will make the final determination of guilt or innocence after hearing opening and closing statements, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and jury instructions. If the jury can’t reach a unanimous verdict, the judge can declare a mistrial. The case would then be dismissed, or a new jury would be selected.


If the defendant is found guilty, the court will determine the appropriate punishment. A judge will consider a number of factors in the case, including the nature of and severity of the crime, the defendant’s personal circumstances, the degree of remorse felt, and criminal history. Many crime sentences will be listed in the state’s laws regarding the minimum or maximum possible penalties a defendant might face.


A person convicted of a crime can ask that his or her case be reviewed by a higher court. If that court determines an error was committed in the case or sentence imposed, the court can reverse the conviction or find that the case should be retried.

If you’re facing a criminal charge, or you know someone who is, make sure to consult an experienced Reno criminal defense attorney about the case. Joey Gilbert Law can offer attorneys who are prepared to begin working on your case from the moment you call us. Our lawyers are dedicated to protecting the rights and freedoms of our clients. Let us see what we can do for you.

Contact us at (775) 574-4774 or fill out our online form to schedule your free case consultation today.


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