The Criminal Justice Process: First Steps

If you are facing state criminal charges, you probably have many questions about the legal process you are facing. We urge you to read the information on this page and subsequent pages to learn more about the state criminal process:

If you are interested in speaking to an attorney from O'Brien Hatfield, PA, about your charges, please call us at (813) 228-6989, en Español at (813) 390-2494 or Orlando at (407) 808-6750. We have offices in Tampa and Orlando, Florida.

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The Arrest

To make an arrest, law enforcement officers often rely on the testimony of witnesses. Victims are considered to be witnesses. In most cases, a person who has been arrested is eligible for bond. Once a person pays a fee or agrees to conditions to be released, he or she is "out on bond." The purpose of the conditions is to ensure that the individual will report to the court. Some conditions include no contact between the arrestee and the victim. In order to receive information on the status of an individual release on bond, the State Attorney's Office can be contacted.

"Is a simple case of right versus wrong", replied attorney Mark J. O'Brien to reporters when asked to summarize his legal argument.
- CBS News Tampa

Filing Decision

Pending review of the case by the assistant state attorney, it is decided if there is sufficient cause to move forward, and if so, charges are then filed. The document that officially holds charges is called "Information." Should the state decide that the case is not strong enough for prosecution of the defendant, the victim will be notified. The notice that the state will not prosecute is entitled "No Bill."

Depositions

In order for the defense attorney to learn in-depth facts about the case, depositions are held. In this setting, the attorney exercises his or her right to question witnesses. The witnesses are served subpoenas to appear for their interviews. Witnesses have a right to ask the defense attorney to bring in an assistant state attorney, although if an ASA is unavailable the attorney can continue the deposition regardless. Depositions are recorded, either by a tape recorder or a court reporter. The defendant is not permitted to attend depositions. Upon conclusion of the depositions, the defendant can review the information and decide to change his or her plea to guilty. Victims are notified of any plea changes through a letter.

First Appearance

Once someone is arrested, a hearing is held. This hearing, called the "first appearance hearing," calls for a recitation of the facts of the case for the judge. The judge then decides if a bond should be set and what the value of that bond should be. If the bond can be met, the individual can be released until trial. This release is guaranteed under the Constitution. In most cases the judge will order no contact between the defendant and the victim of the crime. Victims are permitted to attend the first appearance hearing, but not required to do so. If victims are approached or harassed by the defendant, they can contact the state attorney.

Arraignment

Bordering on the time the defendant is charged, he or she will go to court and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Typically a defendant will enter a not guilty plea in order to give his or her defense attorney time to learn the facts of the case. At the arraignment the judge will select a date for trial to begin. Victims will receive a notice of the trial date in the form of a subpoena. In the case of a continuance, victims should keep track of any changes of the trial date. Victims may be present at the arraignment, but it is not required.