Overview of the Criminal Process in Indiana:
The typical first step to the criminal process is usually an arrest. This can happen on the spot as a suspected crime is taking place, or after weeks of pre-file investigations
. Other times, a person can surrender themselves to authorities after learning of an arrest warrant. It all depends on the individual circumstances of a person’s case. But most often, it is the catalyst that sparks the rest of the criminal proceedings.
Following an arrest, a person will handcuffed, read their Miranda Rights, placed in a police vehicle, and transported to the nearest county jail facility. In jail, they are taken into the processing center where they are “booked” into the jail’s system. This process includes mug shots, finger printing, and a collection of other relative data from the defendant like birth date, address, occupation, and more. They will also be searched by jail staff, and have all personal belongings seized and stowed away until their release. After a person is processed into the system, dependent on good behavior, they are given the opportunity to make phone calls. Usually if cooperative, jail staff will allow a person to make as many calls as they need, so long as there is not a wait for the pay phone. Calls are not free so prepare to call collect.
Once a person is detained on criminal charges, an initial hearing (or arraignment) is set for a judge to explain the criminal charges to the defendant, allow the defendant to plea if they wish,determine if they are eligible for bail or not, and assign a public defender to their case if they have not already hired a lawyer by this time. Depending on several factors, a judge may decide to set bail or keep a defendant in jail. This is an opportunity for a criminal attorney to negotiate release terms for their client if a judge denies bail. They can request for the judge to change their minds at a later date. But in most cases, so long as a person is not being held on capital charges or considered a flight risk, they are granted a release.
This hearing is commonly referred to as a “first appearance” and generally takes place anywhere from 24 to 48 hours after an arrest depending on courtroom traffic. For those who bailed out of jail, an initial hearing must be held within 20 days of the arrest (10 days for DUI cases). Also during this hearing, courts will schedule the pre-trial conference date and trial date.After this hearing, defendants are free to go home to their personal lives to await the next two trials.
After an initial hearing, the discovery process takes place. This is the time before the pre-trial when the defendant and prosecution trade information about their cases. This information includes the evidence that prosecution has and plans to use against the defendant, as well as, the background information of their witnesses, witness statements, police reports, and additional information relevant to the case and trial. Both prosecution and the defense can subpoena other witnesses for pre-trial depositions during this time as well.
Another process that takes place after the initial hearing and before all trials involves filing for motions. A motion is a request to the courts to rule on a particular thing prior to trial. Several motions generally take place on the part of the defense, including Motion to Suppress Evidence, Motion to Reduce Bail, Motion to Change Venue, and much more. Filing motions holds up the criminal proceedings, but can provide legal relief for the defense if granted.
The pre-trial conference takes place before the defendant’s trial hearing. It is simply a meeting between both the prosecuting attorneys and the defense attorneys, to discuss pre-trial motions and other trial-related issues. At this meeting, it will be decided if the case will go to trial, or if a plea bargain can be agreed upon instead. If a plea agreement is made, then a trial will not be needed.
Defendants are offered a plea agreement, or plea bargain, at every stage in the criminal process. Nearly all cases never go to trial, and instead end with defendants accepting a plea deal. Plea bargains are an offer made by the state that gives reduced penalties and charges in exchange for a guilty plea. If a plea agreement is made, it must be put in writing and submitted through the courts. Then the defendant will stand before a judge to make a statement, and the judge will decide whether or not to allow the plea deal. If the judge agrees, then a sentencing trial is set where they will then sentence the defendant according to the plea deal terms. Sometimes, a judge will deny a plea bargain, in which case, a trial is then set.
Upon pre-trial, defendants are INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. And it is the responsibility of the prosecuting attorney to prove to the courts that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to be convicted of a crime. It is at this trial that all evidence is presented and a guilty or not guilty verdict is reached. As for pre-trials, a defendant has the right to trial by jury, but may request a bench trial instead. A bench trial is a trial without jury in which the judge is the sole decision-maker on the defendant’s verdict. A bench trial is only granted if the prosecuting attorney, judge, and defendant all agree to one.
Here’s the general order of trial for Indiana:
*Jury deliberations only take a few hours in most cases, but they can take several weeks or even months depending on how long the jury needs to come to a unanimous agreement on a verdict.
**Jurys decide the verdict of guilty or not guilty, but it is the judge that will decide the proper sentencing.
After a guilty verdict is reached, whether at trial or through a plea deal, a sentencing trial is scheduled within 20 to 30 days. At a sentencing trial, a judge will hand down the final sentence orders, including the penalties for all charges. Before the sentencing trial, the court’s probation department prepares a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report. This report includes the background information of the defendant and a statement regarding the impact of the defendant’s crime. This information is supposed to help the judge determine an appropriate sentence in accordance with Indiana statutes.
If a defendant is sentenced to jail or imprisonment, they are escorted by law enforcement directly following trial. If they are not sentenced to any form of incarceration, they are released on court-orders and post-trial terms.
If the defendant wishes to continue to fight for their freedom, they have the right to an appeal. An appeal simple reopens a defendant’s case and re examines gaps or mistakes in order to reduce criminal charges, dismiss convictions, or obtain a release from incarceration.