The Ohio criminal justice system is designed to protect the rights of and facilitate fair trials for the accused. It consists of a complex maze of stages, including an arrest, court hearings, and evidence review. A criminal case might be settled through a plea deal or may go to trial. If the defendant is convicted, punishments can range from community service to prison, depending on the severity of the offense.
This blog will discuss the steps involved in fighting a criminal charge and how a defense lawyer can help.
The Arrest and Booking
An arrest and booking are the first stages of criminal proceedings. Sometimes, when the police receive a report of a crime, an officer will investigate to determine whether probable cause exists to believe a certain person committed it. If it does, the officer may request a warrant to arrest the individual.
In some cases, an officer may make an arrest without a warrant if they saw the offense being committed. In matters involving misdemeanors, the officer may issue a summons instead of arresting the individual. The summons lets the person know that they must appear in court on a certain date and time.
After the suspect is taken into custody, they will be booked at the local law enforcement agency. The process involves logging the individual’s personal details into the agency’s system.
The Initial Appearance and Preliminary Hearing
Generally, the first time the accused (now called the defendant) will appear in court is at the initial appearance. During this proceeding, a judge may set bail, will inform the individual of the charges, and read a copy of the complaint against them. The judge will also let the defendant know that they have the right to an attorney and to a preliminary hearing (if they have been charged with a felony).
A separate proceeding will be held if the defendant elects to have a preliminary hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether probable cause exists to believe that the defendant committed the alleged felony.
On misdemeanor charges, the defendant may be asked to enter a plea at the initial appearance. However, those charged with felonies may not be required to enter a plea until the arraignment.
During the arraignment, the court will formally read the complaint against the defendant and ask for a plea. The defendant can plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest.
A guilty plea means the defendant admits to the charges against them. With a no contest plea, the defendant does not admit guilt, but they recognize the facts in the complaint against them as true.
The defendant must appear at the arraignment unless an exception is made.
Motions before trial are an important step in the legal process. They allow parties to raise objects, defenses, or evidence-related issues. For example, the defense might submit a motion to have evidence thrown out of court if they believe that it was obtained in violation of their defendant’s rights.
The Discovery Phase
The process of discovery is an integral part of criminal proceedings. It facilitates a fair and just trial and protects the defendant's rights.
During discovery, the prosecution and defense must exchange documents, photographs, and other relevant information concerning the case. This enables all parties involved to build more comprehensive arguments and avoid any surprises at trial.
Many criminal cases are resolved through plea deals between the prosecution and defense. However, when settling the matter in this way is not possible, the cause must go to trial.
At trial, a judge or jury will hear the evidence to decide on the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The burden of proof lies on the prosecutor. They must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Still, the defendant does not have to prove their innocence (they are presumed innocent in the eyes of the law).
The verdict is the judge’s or jury’s decision at the end of the case. For matters heard by juries, the decision must be unanimous, meaning all must agree to it. If a judge heard the case, they alone make the ruling.
If a defendant has been found guilty, the court will decide the appropriate penalty. The criminal statutes in the Ohio Revised Code provide ranges of punishments that can be imposed. Still, judges may weigh various aspects of the case to determine the penalties. This can include considering any aggravating or mitigating factors, such as if the accused has prior convictions.
If the defendant is found guilty and believes the judgment resulted from a legal error, they can appeal the decision. This means that they request a higher court to review the trial court’s decision and determine appropriate remedies.
The appellate court does not hear new evidence. The justices review the trial court record and the arguments concerning the error that affected the outcome. The appellate court may affirm the trial court’s decision or send the case back to be tried again with remedies for the error.
How a Lawyer Can Help Fight Criminal Charges
The justice system can be complicated and daunting. Thankfully, a criminal defense attorney can help navigate the process. They are knowledgeable and experienced in defending clients against accusations.
A lawyer knows how to review the evidence and create a legal strategy to counter the prosecution’s arguments. They can negotiate with the prosecutor to seek to get charges reduced or dropped altogether. If the defendant is convicted, the attorney may also present mitigating factors to pursue more lenient sentencing.
Finding the right lawyer is essential in preparing an effective defense strategy.
At L. Patrick Mulligan & Associates, LLC, our Dayton team works relentlessly for our clients. Schedule a consultation by calling us at (937) 685-7006 or contacting us online.