Bail is a deposit of money that helps to guarantee that an accused person will appear for trial at the time and date specified. After the accused has been taken into custody, the court may set bail and temporarily release the accused person. If he or she does not appear, bail is forfeited, and the accused is considered a fugitive. If the accused can reasonably be expected to appear when ordered, the court may release the accused on his or her own recognizance (that is, without bail), depending on local rules and the seriousness of the crime.
A preliminary hearing is held to determine whether there is probable cause for holding the accused for trial. A preliminary hearing may also be held to fix bail. In the case of certain less serious crimes the preliminary hearing may follow the arraignment (see below).
The next step in a criminal procedure is an arraignment. Arraigning an accused person has three purposes: (1) to establish the identity of the accused; (2) to inform the accused of the charges; and (3) to allow the court to hear the plea of the accused - that is, the answer to the charge, or a declaration of guilt or innocence.
After being formally charged, and usually before the start of a trial, a defendant may arrange with the prosecution to enter a guilty plea to a lesser charge, if the prosecution is willing to charge the defendant with a lesser crime.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to a jury trial in a criminal trial; this right, however, may be waived by the defendant. If the trial is to be held before a jury, it is selected and sworn in. A trial jury typically consists of 12 citizens who listen to the facts and present their decision, the verdict. In criminal actions a unanimous vote of the jurors is usually necessary. In a jury trial, the judge rules on points of law and the jury decides questions of fact.
After the jury has been sworn in, the trial usually follows this sequence: (1) opening statement by the prosecutor; (2) opening statement by the defendant's lawyer (this may be delayed, however, until the beginning of step 4); (3) presentation of evidence by the prosecutor; (4) presentation of evidence by the defendant's lawyer; (5) closing argument by the prosecutor; (6) closing argument by the defendant's lawyer; and (7) the judge's charge or instructions to the jury.
The judge charges the jury, instructing them regarding the law that relates to the case, and provides guidance in reaching a verdict. The judge prepares the instructions, but prior to the trial each attorney prepares and submits to the judge a set of requested jury instructions. In this way, each attorney can make sure that the judge does not overlook any point that the attorney considers important.
The jury retires to a private room and considers the case. A vote of the jury is taken to arrive at a decision. The defendant may be acquitted, found guilty, or a mistrial may be declared by the judge if the jury cannot reach a decision. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge has the authority to impose sentence, although in some jurisdictions the jury will determine the sentence. In serious cases, another hearing might be held to determine the sentence. The sentence is based on specific findings of fact, as the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances, and conclusions of law. The verdict is signed by the judge and recorded so that it may be included in the transcript of the case. If the accused is found guilty, the case may be appealed. After acquittal, a criminal defendant cannot be tried again for the same crime. If a mistrial is declared, there must be a new trial with a new jury.
*[SOURCE: Lawyers.com <http://www.lawyers.com/lawyers-com/content/aboutlaw/judicial_4.html>]
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