The thought of going to court is terrifying for so many. When you are facing criminal charges, it can seem like the world has ended. Yes, there are serious consequences for criminal convictions, so it’s important to take a federal charge seriously. You may feel a little better, though, if you know how the criminal trial process works for federal cases.
Federal criminal trials are similar to trials at the state level. Learning about the process could be useful for you, so we’ve put together the basic steps in the process below.
Read through the following steps to understand how the criminal court process works at the federal level.
The federal criminal court process starts with a crime. Often, officers learn of criminal activity from the community. The crime will be investigated and officers will gather evidence to prove guilt. Depending on the crime, the investigation process can be short or lengthy. Once officers determine they have enough evidence to convict, they will charge the person with the crime.
Once the person has been charged (or arrested) for a crime, this kicks off court proceedings. There will be an initial hearing to advise the accused person of what charge they are facing and the penalties they could face if convicted. The initial hearing is often called an arraignment.
Other hearings can follow the arraignment, such as bail hearings. The court hearings that take place before a trial are sometimes called pretrial hearings.
Before trial, many things can take place. People can sign a plea agreement if they feel like the evidence against them is strong. A plea agreement can allow a person to avoid a trial. Sometimes, a plea deal can mean the accused could receive a lighter sentence for agreeing to give up their right to a trial.
Plea bargaining is not for everyone. You should talk to a lawyer before ever signing away your right to a trial.
If the person decides to fight their charge, they can go to trial. This is where the evidence against the accused can be presented. This is also where the accused has the chance to put up a defense.
If you’re innocent of the crime you’ve been accused of committing, this is when you tell your side of the story.
If the accused person is convicted of the crime they were charged with, the final step is sentencing. A federal judge will sentence the person based on the seriousness of the crime.
You can see that the federal criminal court process is much like criminal court at the state level. Federal crimes tend to be more serious than some state crimes. If convicted, you could spend time in a federal prison.