Felony Criminal Charge Filed in State Court, Term Paper Example
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The American Criminal Justice System revolves around the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments of the Constitution. The 4th Amendment, typically invoked to prove a right to privacy, grants citizens protection against illegal searches and seizures. (Constitution of the United States of America) The 5th Amendment provides that no citizen shall be held without a charge, charged for the same crime twice, forced to stand as witness against him/herself, or denied due process of law. (Constitution of the United States of America) The 6th Amendment grants the accused a right to a speedy and public trial, impartial juries in the accused individual’s home jurisdiction, notification of the nature and cause of the accusation, an opportunity to confront the witnesses against him/her, access to witnesses in his/her favor, and the right to an attorney. (Constitution of the United States of America)
The criminal justice process begins with the police officer’s decision to investigate and possibly arrest an individual. The 4th Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure as an extension of one’s right to privacy. (Constitution of the United States of America) Typically, a police officer would have to obtain a warrant from a judge before investigating a suspect’s person, car, or house. (Constitution of the United States of America) However, courts have permitted police officers to arrest people without prior evidence of wrongdoing through the legal doctrine of Probable Cause. (Constitution of the United States of America)
The Probable Cause doctrine allows police officers to make an arrest, conduct a personal or property search, or obtain a warrant for arrest if they have a reasonable belief that someone has committed a crime. (Fitzgerald, 2000) It is constitutionally based, originating in an exception to the protections against search and seizure from the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…” (Constitution of the United States of America) Officers are given considerable leeway in applying the Probable Cause doctrine. The only effective limit on officer discretion is the interpretation of the Probable Cause doctrine after the arrest by a judge in a Probable Cause hearing, which will be discussed later.
After a police officer arrests an individual, he must notify the individual of his/her constitutional rights, commonly known as the “Miranda” rights. The Miranda rights basically summarize the protections afforded by the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments. (Radzinowicz and Wolfgang, 1977) These rights include “a right to remain silent, a right to an attorney, a caveat that anything the suspect says is admissible in the court of law. (Radzinowicz and Wolfgang, 1977)
After a suspect is arrested and booked, either the arresting officer or a prosecutor will file an official complaint with the court, which will serve as the charging document until official charges are brought against the defendant by the prosecution. Unless the police officer has a warrant attached to the arrest, a judge will hold a Probable Cause hearing to determine whether the police officer truly had Probable Cause when arresting the suspect.
The individual must then be taken before a judge for the initial arraignment. At the hearing, the arrestee receives formal notice of the charges against her, her constitutional rights in the impending prosecution are explained to her, and a date is set for a preliminary hearing. If the suspect is indigent and not presently represented by counsel, a lawyer may be appointed for her at this time. The judge will also determine whether the defendant will be detained for further proceedings and whether the defendant can be released on bail. If the suspect was arrested without a warrant, the judge will make a probable cause determination at the first arraignment, which could lead to a dismissal of the charges and release of the individual during the next stage of the process, the preliminary hearing.
Defendants have the right to a preliminary hearing, where a judge will determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has occurred and that the arrestee committed it. (Siegel, 2010) In these situations, the judge would determine whether the officer’s belief that the suspect committed a crime was a “reasonable belief” in light of the particular facts and circumstances of the case. (Siegel, 2010) If the judge fails to find sufficient evidence to detain the defendant, he/she can dismiss the complaint and release the defendant. (Dressler, 2006) If the judge determines that the arrest is valid and the prosecutor will file an “information document” to replace the initial complaint, stating the charges against the defendant and the essential facts relating to them. (Dressler, 2006)
In certain jurisdictions, known as indictment jurisdictions, a grand jury, instead of a judge, will play the primary role in detaining or releasing the defendant. The decision of the grand jury of whether the individual should or should not be detained would override the judge’s Probable Cause determination. At this grand jury proceeding, the prosecutor will make an ex parte presentation of the evidence surrounding the arrest to the grand jurors. The grand jurors will vote on whether there is enough evidence to indict the individual. If the grand jury does not vote to indict the defendant, the complaint will be dismissed and the individual released. If the grand jury votes to indict the individual, the prosecutor will issue an indictment document.
If the prosecutor files either an indictment or information, the case will proceed to arraignment. The Sixth Amendment gives the defendant a right to counsel at this arraignment and this legal counsel will advise the defendant on how to plead to the indictment/information document. (Dressler, 2006) The defendant may either plead guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere, which is a guilty plea with a denial of culpability for the crime. (Siegel, 2010)
After the arraignment and the defendant’s plea, the defendant may make various pretrial motions which involve the invocation of constitutional protections and police procedure. (Dressler, 2006) For example, the defendant may claim that the indictment or information document is defective, in that it fails to allege an essential element of the crime charged, or that it fails to give the defendant sufficient notice of the facts relating to the charge against her. (Dressler, 2006) The defendant can also take issue with the manner of arrest by claiming that certain evidence was obtained in an unconstitutional manner and that the judge should suppress the evidence, which means that it would not be admissible in court. (Dressler, 2006)
The Significance of the Pre-Trial Stage and Negotiations
After the determination that the arrest was valid, the prosecution holds much of the discretion and is the primary decision-maker. The prosecuting attorney, as a representative of the state and of the public, may decide which charges to bring against the individual. (Siegel, 2010) In determining which charges to bring, the prosecuting attorney must consider the public safety interests of the state, the limited resources of the court system, the interests of the victim if there is a victim, and the interests of the defendant. (Siegel, 2010) Thus, the prosecution must decide first whether the defendant poses enough danger to the public to warrant a criminal charge and second whether there is a way to dispose of the defendant without a long, expensive trial.
When deciding, the prosecuting attorney may consult with the defendant and the presiding judge. The prosecution will usually meet with the defendant or the defendant’s legal representative to discuss the defendant’s position and the prospective charges. (Siegel, 2010) Typically, these discussions involve some type of plea bargain or negotiation aimed at avoiding a criminal trial. (Siegel, 2010) When the negotiation involves terms of sentencing, the prosecution must secure the compliance of the judge because the judge alone is responsible for sentencing. (Siegel, 2010)
The individual, who is now a criminal defendant, has a right to consult with an attorney. After receiving notice of the pending charges, the individual may negotiate with the prosecuting attorney if the latter is willing. Sometimes, the defendant will request a reduction of the charged crime to a lesser crime in return for the defendant’s admission of guilt to that lesser crime. Other times, the defendant will plead guilty to the original charge in return for a reduced sentence from the judge.
If a defendant does not plead guilty and the charges are not dismissed, the case will proceed to trial. (Dressler, 2006) The Sixth Amendment entitles a defendant to trial by jury in the prosecution of any serious offense. However, the trial may be held in front of only a judge if the offense at issue is less serious or where the defendant waives his/her right to a fair trial. (Dressler, 2006)
The Constitution gives the defendant many important protections at trial. First, the 6th Amendment gives the defendant the right to employ counsel at trial and the right to an attorney if they cannot afford one on their own. (Dressler, 2006) The 6th Amendment also gives the defendant may also call witnesses on her own behalf, and confront and cross-examine the witnesses who testify against her. (Dressler, 2006) Also, the 5th Amendment gives the defendant the right to not testify against him/herself at trial. (Dressler, 2006)
If the defendant is convicted after a trial, or if the defendant pleads guilty, the judge must impose a sentence. Typically, the judge will issue this sentence at a separate sentencing hearing. (Dressler, 2006) At the sentencing hearing, the defendant will retain most of the constitutional protections he/she enjoys at trial. (Dressler, 2006)
If the defendant is acquitted by the jury or by the judge in a bench trial, the 5th Amendment government prohibits the government from trying the defendant for the same crime. (Dressler, 2006) Although there are is no constitutional right to appeal convictions, every state has passed its own laws which allow a convicted defendant to appeal a conviction after trial. (Dressler, 2006)
The defendant may appeal to an appellate court below the state supreme court or, if there is none, directly to the state supreme court. (Dressler, 2006) If the appellant is unsuccessful at this level, he/she can bring the appeal to a higher court. (Dressler, 2006)
If the appellant’s complaint is based on a Constitutional issue, she may bring her case to federal court which has jurisdiction over that particular state. (Dressler, 2006) However, if the appellant’s complaint involves a right provided by the state’s laws, he/she cannot bring this issue before a federal court. (Dressler, 2006) If the appellant is unsuccessful at the first level of the federal courts, she petition to go to higher courts within the US Court of Appeals. (Dressler, 2006) If the appellant has failed to find adequate legal relief at the highest level of the US Court of Appeals, he/she may petition for the Constitutional issue to be heard by the United States Supreme Court.
Crime and Justice Volume II: The Criminal in the Arms of the Law, Edited by Sir Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin E. Wolfgang (1977). Basic Books Publishing.
Joshua Dressler and Alan C. Michaels, Understanding Criminal Procedure Vol. 2: Adjudication (4th Edition)(2006). Lexis-Nexis.
Larry J. Siegel, Introduction to Criminal Justice (12th Edition) (2010) Cengage Learning.
Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary (8th Edition) (2004). Thomson West.
Terence J. Fitzgerald, Police in Society (2000). H.W. Wilson.
Constitution of the United States of America
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