Most people have very little experience with the criminal justice system in Cleveland and beyond. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and scared should you find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Below is a very basic outline of the government’s process for controlling crime and imposing penalties on those who break the law. Of course, this system is very complex and varies considerably based on the severity of the offense, whether the accused is a juvenile or an adult, and what state you reside in. Every case is unique; only an experienced Ohio criminal defense attorney can advise and guide you through the legal process to ensure the best outcome.
Entry into the System
- Report: Law enforcement officers receive report of a crime.
- Investigation: Law enforcement officers investigate the crime, identify a suspect, and collect evidence against the suspect.
- Arrest or citation: If law enforcement has enough evidence to implicate someone, they may arrest the suspect or issue a citation to appear in court later.
- Charges: A prosecutor considers the evidence collected by law enforcement and decides whether to file written charges or release the accused without prosecution.
- First court appearance: If charges are filed, the accused appears in court to be informed of the charges against him. A judge decides whether there is enough evidence to hold the accused or release him. If the accused does not already have a defense attorney, the court may appoint one.
- Bail or bond: At the first court appearance, the judge may decide to hold the accused in jail or release him on bail, bond, or on his own recognizance.
- Grand Jury: In Ohio, an accused has the right to have a felony case be considered by a grand jury. The grand jury hears evidence presented by the prosecution without the defense present or participating. The grand jurors thereafter vote as to whether a true bill indictment should be returned thereby formally charging someone with a felony offense.
- Arraignment: The defendant is brought before a judge to be informed of charges against him and his rights. The defendant can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest (i.e., accepting the penalty for a crime without admitting guilt). If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, or if a plea agreement has been negotiated, no trial is held and the defendant is sentenced. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a date for the trial is set.
Trials are held before a judge (called a “bench trial”) or a judge and jury (a “jury trial”), depending on the seriousness of the crime. Prosecutors and defense attorneys present evidence and question witnesses. The judge or jury finds the defendant either guilty or not guilty. If the defendant is found not guilty, the defendant is released; if he is found guilty, the judge sets a later date for sentencing.
- Sentencing: At a hearing, a judge decides the offender’s sentence, which could include restitution (i.e., paying the victim); paying court fines; probation; or jail or prison.
- Appeals: After conviction by a jury, an individual can pursue an appeals process that can involve seeking a new trial or petitioning to overturn a sentence.