What are the Different Phases of a Criminal Case?

The criminal prosecution process is just that; a process that unfolds itself in a series of consecutive phases. If you are facing criminal charges, you will soon become a part of this predictable procession of events. Continue reading to learn the basic stages of a criminal case, starting with the arrest. This information can help prepare you for what’s to come, as well as, give you the knowledge you need to starting building a strong defense.

Criminal Defense Law Firm 317-636-7514
Criminal Defense Law Firm 317-636-7514


An arrest is the very first phase in the criminal prosecution process. A person can be arrested physically, or issued an arrest warrant in which they would have to legally surrender to authorities within a specified period of time. Once a person surrenders to an arrest warrant, they are then physically arrested and booked into the jail where they will await their arraignment.


The next stage in the criminal prosecution process is the defendant’s first court hearing, also known as an arraignment. During this court appearance, the judge reads the defendant’s charges, and asks them to enter a plea of “no contest”, “guilty”, or “not guilty.

Although most criminal prosecutions come to an end once a defendant accepts a plea deal, or plea bargain, there are several criminal cases that go to trial and beyond. When a plea bargain is accepted, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the criminal charges. In exchange for their guilty plea, the prosecutor typically offers a reduced conviction or sentence. See our blog, “Is a Plea Bargain the Same as a Plea Deal?” to learn more about plea deals.

Also during the arraignment, the judge generally addresses bail and schedules future court dates. Many arrestees are granted bail, and can post their bond. Some are required to stay in jail until the criminal case is over.

Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury Indictment

For federal criminal cases, charges are brought forward with a grand jury indictment. Most often, criminal charges are brought forth by a “bill of information” obtained by a preliminary hearing, also known as a preliminary examination. On a state level, either method can be used at the state’s discretion. Both types of hearings are held for the purpose of establishing the existence of probable cause, and for both parties to make their arguments.

Pre-Trial Motions

Pre-trial motions are used by both parties to resolve any lingering issues, as well as, determine the evidence and testimonies that will be admissible during trial.


The trial is the heart of the criminal prosecution process. At a defendant’s trial, the judge (or jury) will hand down a verdict, finding them guilty or not guilty. In order to be handed down a guilty verdict, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty of the purported crime or crimes. If a defendant chooses a trial by jury, and the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the judge will determine it to be a mistrial. In the case of a mistrial, the charges will be dismissed, or a new jury will be appointed.


After a defendant is found guilty at their trial, they will be scheduled a new court date to receive their sentencing. Sentences are the penalties ordered to the guilty party, such as probation, jail time, fines, community service, and more.


The last step of the criminal prosecution process does not always take place. If a defendant wishes to fight their conviction, and get it turned over, they must have their legal team file an appeal. Their appeal will be addressed in a new hearing by a higher court, known as appellate court.

Hire a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney in Indiana Right Away to Fight Your Charges

If you do not already have a licensed Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer working on your case, you need one right away. Contact David E. Lewis, Attorney at Law, at 317-636-7514 to start building a strong and impactful defense against your criminal charges so that you have a chance at avoiding the maximum penalties for your suspected crimes. Our law firm offers free initial consultations, so there are no out-of-pocket obligations to you. Get started protecting your future, today.

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