An offense that is punishable by death or imprisonment for more than one year is known as a felony (Johnson, 2008). A felony is considered by law as one of the severest crimes in the criminal justice system (Johnson, 2008). This paper is intended to explicate the entire justice process for a felony criminal charge filed in a state court. In this regard, the New York court system will be used as an illustration.
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It is important to note that a felony criminal case does not have to go through all these processes since it can end before it reaches the trial stage. The thesis of this paper is that the process of handling felony criminal cases in a state court is efficient as to ensure justice for both the accused and the complainant.
The Criminal Justice Process for a Felony Criminal Charge in a State Court
Initiation of charges by a complainant
This is the first process in dealing with a felony crime in a state court. This stage consists of an arrest of a suspect, complaint and booking of a felony case; it also involves conducting investigations. A felony criminal case often commences with an arrest of a suspect by a police officer.
Important to note is the fact that a person accused of having committed a felony crime may be arrested, but not necessarily held in detention (Johnson, 2008). Alternatively, the person may be issued with an appearance ticket or a Desk Appearance Ticket in the case of New York State courts (Johnson, 2008). After the issuance of the ticket, the accused can be released from detention. Interestingly, a person issued with an appearance ticket may be freed without bail.
Following an investigation, a criminal case may start with the filing of a felony criminal offense charge. Otherwise, it may commence with information provided by a prosecutor or police officer (Cohen, 2006). In other cases, this comes after an indictment by a grand jury (Gibeaut, 2001). After an arrest is made, defendants are often booked at a local police station or other relevant detention facilities.
During this process, fingerprints and photographs of the defendant are taken; these are important in determining any prior criminal activity of the defendant (Cole & Smith, 2006). Here the defendant is guaranteed the right to due process of law under the Fifth and Fourth Amendments, and the right to legal counsel.
Arraignment of the Defendant in Court
This is the second step in dealing with a felony criminal case in a state court. The arraignment must always be done within 24 hours of arrest, except when the period ends on a weekend or a holiday (Acker & Brody, 2011). During the arraignment, the defendant is informed about the charges filed against him or her, notified of his or her right to the services of a counsel and informed, within 144 hours of his or her arrest, of the rights to an initial hearing (Acker & Brody, 2011).
It is worth noting that a felony criminal case may either be dismissed at this stage, the defendant may plead guilty and get an immediate sentencing or the judge may adjourn the case. There may also be a plea-bargaining in this stage.
Plea-bargaining is a process through which a prosecutor and the defense counsel negotiate to do away with a felony criminal case. This often happens by reducing the charges and involves sentencing (Acker & Brody, 2011).
Proceedings after Arraigning a Defendant in Court
After a defendant’s arraignment in court, a judge may set a condition of bail. If the defendant is not able to afford the bail amount, he or she will have to stay in custody for 144 hours from the time of arrest (Pollock, 2011). The prosecution must get an indictment of the defendant by the grand jury or otherwise conduct an initial hearing (Pollock, 2011).
If either of the two steps is not taken, then the defendant must be set free unconditionally; the prosecutor can still instigate a proper cause of exception to the limited time and hence seek for extended detention of the defendant (Pollock, 2011).
During the preliminary hearing, both the defense counsel and prosecution present their arguments. The initial hearings are normally conducted to determine if there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to a full trial (Bank, 2002).
The prosecution may bring in witnesses to testify under oath, in which case the defense counsels may also cross-examine the witnesses and question the integrity of their evidence. Besides, the defendant can waive the right to an initial hearing. Should this be the case, then the felony case will be passed directly to the grand jury (Gaines & Miller, 2012).
The grand jury consists of between 16 and 23 citizens selected on the basis of a county to determine whether or not adequate evidence exists to indict the defendant on charges of felony crimes (Howley, 2003). An indictment may be filed to contain felony charges, if at least twelve grand jurors find that there is sufficient evidence to take the case to trial.
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Alternatively, the grand jurors may find the evidence to be inadequate and hence reduce the charges to a misdemeanor; in this case, the grand jury may direct the prosecutor to file a misdemeanor case against the defendant in a local criminal court (Howley, 2003).
In cases where they find that there is no enough evidence, the court must release the defendant (Howley, 2003). At this point, the case against the defendant collapses and no further action can be taken. Should the defendant be indicted, then a post-indictment arraignment takes place.
During the post-indictment arraignment, the defendant is usually notified about the charges in his or her indictment; he or she may enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Besides, the judge may also review the condition for bail while allowing the defendant to choose whether or not to enter plea-bargaining. If the defendant enters a not guilty plea, the judge adjourns the case and sets a future date of the hearing proceedings (Hails, 2011).
Pretrial Proceedings and Hearings
In this stage, there are two things that are done: discovery and pre-trial motions. Discovery is the process in which either the defense counsel or the prosecutor collects information regarding the opposing lawyer’s case. In this case, the defense counsel can ask for any documented record or oral statement made by a defendant during investigations into a felony crime.
Further, the defense counsel can also request for defendant’s testimony obtained during the grand jury sessions, outcomes of any mental and physical examination of the defendant and any forensic test done on the defendant (Levinson, 2002).
Hearing may be held to establish whether a motion should be granted. This should be done within 45 days following an arraignment; however, the judge can extend this period based on a good cause. A judicial hearing officer submits a report to the presiding judge over the cases that have factual findings and legal resolves regarding the motion. The judge uses this information to make a ruling and he or she can decide to either accept or reject them (Levinson, 2002).
Trial and Post-trial Hearings and Motions
If the defendant does not take the plea of guilty in any successive stage, a trial is conducted following pre-trial motions and hearings. During a trial, either a jury or a judge establishes whether or not the prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is actually guilty of the felony charges against him or her. It is important to note that a defendant charged with a felony crime has a right to a trial by a jury; nonetheless, the defendant may still waive his or her right to such a trial (Acker & Brody, 2011).
After the presentation of evidence by a prosecutor and rebuttals by a defense counsel, both the defense and the prosecution deliver closing summations. The judge then provides directions to the jury with regard to the specific laws to apply, and how to go about it; otherwise, the judge may decide to directly charge the defendant. Thereafter, a unanimous vote by the jury results in a preferred verdict. There is also a possibility of partial verdict (Acker & Brody, 2011).
Many factors determine the sentence given to a defendant. These include the seriousness of the felony charges, the past convictions of the defendant and the circumstances of the felony. The varieties of sentencing a convicted defendant may get include a conditional discharge, imprisonment, a fine, restitution, probation and conditional discharge (Gardner & Anderson, 2009).
After sentencing, the defendant has a right to an appeal. It is crucial to note that the defendant might have waived his or her right to certain appeals during the trial. Even so, the defendant has the right to, at least, appeal some issues to the appellate court. The notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days following a sentence.
The caveat is that an attorney is not always under an obligation to file for an appeal; it is the defendant to make a request for it (Gardner & Anderson, 2009). There are two grounds for appeal. An appeal may be made if the sentence is, as a matter of law, invalid. For instance, the defendant may receive a longer sentence than required on the basis of prior conviction when, in actual sense, there might not have been any prior conviction.
Besides, the defendant may claim that he or she received an excessive sentence during sentencing. In other cases, the prosecutor may also appeal against a sentence given to a defendant. The probable outcome of an appeal includes a reversal of a conviction, upholding of a conviction or a modification of a conviction (Gardner & Anderson, 2009).
The justice system in a state court is therefore efficient as to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial and sentencing. The process is conducted in a manner that respects the constitutional rights of a defendant, both at state and federal levels.
The entire criminal justice process in a state court entails the initiation of charges by a complainant, arraignment of the defendant in court, post arraignment proceedings, pre-trial proceedings and hearings, trial and post-trial hearings and motions, sentencing and appeal. The right of the defendant is protected under both the state and federal laws.
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