Indiana Criminal Court Process
Being charged with a crime in Indiana is nerve-wracking, and someone with no experience of the criminal justice system probably has no idea what comes next. What happens if they are being investigated? What do they do if they are arrested? It may seem confusing, but the criminal court process is the same for everyone, with a few exceptions, and can be explained by an Indianapolis criminal defense attorney like Sean Hessler.
Arrested and Formally Charged
The very beginning of any criminal case is when the police legally arrest an individual based on having probable cause that this person committed a specific crime. A person may be arrested after an officer believes they witnessed them committing a crime, or someone can be arrested after the police have gathered evidence that they committed a specific crime.
There will be formal charging documents that lay out exactly what the individual is charged with and under which statutes. These are filed with the court and usually public record.
An individual charged with a crime doesn’t head to trial right away, but they will stand in front of a judge at an initial hearing to give a preliminary plea and usually to ask for bail in order to be released from jail. In some circumstances, a person may post bail before the initial hearing, in which case it will be scheduled within 20 days of their arrest.
Key pre-trial steps are:
- Obtaining Counsel. If you did not have an attorney helping you prior to this point, it’s crucial that you get a lawyer. An experienced attorney can better explain the charges and the possible consequences of conviction. After learning your situation, they can also advise you on legal defenses and strategies. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.
- Seeking Bail. People who have been arrested and are in jail can seek release upon posting bail, except if they are charged with murder. Bail is collateral against an individual returning to court when they are supposed to. If they don’t appear in court, the bail money or property is forfeited. Usually, the money or bond is released at the end of the trial – no matter the outcome. For lesser charges, Indiana has a bail schedule so an individual can post bail based on this. For more serious charges, the defendant’s bail amount is set by the judge at the initial hearing.
- Entering a Preliminary Plea of Not Guilty. You may have the opportunity to plead guilty at the initial hearing but this is generally advised against. Pleading not guilty at the initial hearing allows you more time to seek legal advice and does not prejudice your future trial. You can change your plea to guilty later if you and your attorney believe that is the best course of action.
- Discovery. There is usually plenty to do before a defendant heads to trial. Your attorney will investigate the case and through the discovery process, obtain information from the prosecutor regarding their evidence and witnesses. Your attorney can take preliminary statements from witnesses. However, the defendant is not required to provide any statements before trial.
- File Pre-Trial Motions. In some cases, the defense attorney will file a motion to dismiss the case entirely or to suppress certain evidence, if it was illegally obtained.
Proceed to Trial
Following the initial hearing, the defendant and their attorney will build the defense and strategy for the trial. However, there are numerous steps to the trial itself, which is why it can take days if it’s a complicated case.
- Jury selection. This is also known as voir dire. The prosecutor and your defense attorney interview potential jury members and are allowed a certain number of objections.
- Preliminary instructions. The judge will give the selected jury initial instructions regarding their job during the trial. These instructions include plain language explanation of the issues to be determined at trial, how the trial will proceed, and the burden of proof, which is beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Opening statements. The prosecutor will start by providing the jury with an opening statement regarding the evidence they will present. Next, the defense attorney will give a statement giving a broad explanation of why the prosecutor’s evident is not enough to prove the defendant’s guilt.
- Witnesses and Evidence. This process includes calling witness and presenting evidence, such as physical objects or video.
- Closing arguments. Much like opening statements, each side wraps up their case with a closing statement.
- Jury instructions. After all the evidence is presented and each side has given their closing argument, the jury receives their final instructions as to the questions they need to answer and a reminder regarding the standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury will also be reminded they must interpret the facts based on the relevant statutes, not what they believe the law should be.
- Jury deliberation and verdict. The jury is allowed to discuss the case, including the testimony they heard and evidence they saw. In some situations they will send back questions to the judge to be answered. Usually a criminal case required a unanimous verdict. One of the jurors will be elected the foreperson, and they will deliver the verdict to the judge. If the jury cannot come to a unanimous decision, there will be a mistrial, which means the defendant can be tried again at a later time by a new jury.
During all of this time, the defendant and prosecutor can negotiate a plea agreement. This usually means the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge or for a minimal sentence for the offense.
If a defendant is convicted, they will go to a sentencing hearing. The judge determines what they believe is an appropriate punishment between the statutory minimums and maximums. Sentencing for lesser charges usually occurs right away, but serious convictions have sentencing hearings at a later date because the judge will listen to arguments from the prosecutor and defense before determining an appropriate penalty.
Charged with a Crime in Indiana?
If you are being charged with a crime in Indiana, call the legal defense team at Hessler Law today. At Hessler Law, we have experience defending people accused of all types of crimes, as well as prior experience on the other side of the process in prosecution. That experience puts us in a position to look at all facets of your case, anticipate a prosecutor’s arguments, and prepare a defense strategy designed to get you the best possible outcome. Call us for a consultation about your Indiana criminal charge today at (317) 886-8800. We can provide you with a free phone consultation.