The criminal justice system is a mystery to most average people. Their only exposure comes from entertainment from books, television and movies, or from the media. But television and movies depict the criminal justice system in shorthand — abbreviated and dramatized to appeal to a large audience. The news media offers limited, highlights-only coverage — except in extreme cases, such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
For those who find themselves involved with the police for the first time, the system can be intimidating. When a person is arrested, the first stop is a trip to jail for booking. There, the charges are sketched out, your picture is taken, you are fingerprinted and your immediate future decided.
After booking, you can contact your loved ones and an attorney. Then comes the decision on your immediate future. Depending on the severity of the crime, you are either be offered the chance to post bail or held pending trial.
The first court appearance is typically the arraignment, when the charges are outlined more clearly and you’ll enter a plea. A guilty or no-contest plea waives your right to a trial and moves you on to the punishment phase. A not guilty plea sets up a trial date. It’s very important to consult a criminal defense attorney before entering a plea to ensure your rights under the law are protected.
Finally, if your case proceeds to trial, it’s important to remember not to defend yourself. A trial is no place for amateurs. Instead, you need a criminal defense attorney who knows and understand the rights of the accused and how to combat criminal accusations.