Steps in Criminal Court Procedure
Criminal procedure: Understanding the stages in the criminal court process will help a person regain control after the initial shock. This is the criminal procedure for all Minnesota criminal offense levels.
In the beginning of the criminal process, the “target” becomes aware of a police investigation. And sometimes it’s been going awhile. But, what countermeasures can the target take?
First, check your emotional state. If you’re human; you’re upset. But that’s ok. And in fact, it’s good to notice. Because strong emotions lead to poor choices. (Avoid allowing someone (police) to trigger those strong emotions.) And by acknowledging your emotions, you’ll be able to set them aside for problem-solving.
Next, bring in a professional like Attorney Thomas Gallagher for pre-charge counsel. So we can work together to:
- identify known facts,
- spotlight legal issues,
- formulate the best defense strategies, and,
- implement them.
The initial goal is to reduce the chances of a criminal charge being filed with the court. And second, if the government does make a criminal charge, we want to do everything possible to avoid helping them. So this means:
- avoid answering questions or talking to police without your lawyer present, and
- never consent to a search in any way.
If police are investigating you, shut up and lawyer up.
Criminal cases often begin with police investigating. And many steps in the process may follow. But not all cases will make it to the next stage in the funnel. So for more on police investigations, see our page:
Police Investigation page
When, in the court process, do I need a lawyer?
You should get a criminal defense lawyer’s help at the point in the court process when you can benefit.
Before or during a police investigation; you may benefit from the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney, like Thomas Gallagher.
And what you are seeing for the first time, he has seen over and over again, for decades.
Question? Call Lawyer Thomas Gallagher, 612 333-1500
So Attorney Thomas Gallagher can guide you away from trouble, towards safety. And for more about pre-charge legal representation, see our pages:
After police complete their investigation, they forward it to the prosecuting attorney. And then the prosecuting attorney decides whether or not to charge a person with a crime.
But what is a criminal charge? A “charge” is a prosecutor’s unproven claim, based on second-hand information.
Prosecutors charge crimes based on their view that the evidence shows probable cause to believe guilt. But we can read the headlines; conduct a web search: “The Exoneration Registry,” “The Innocence Project.”
Prosecutors frequently charge people with crimes, who are later proven innocent by DNA, or other overwhelming evidence. (Placing blind trust in the system, without the protection of an attorney, would be foolish indeed.)
The charging document alleges facts, which if true; the prosecutor thinks will amount to “probable cause” (suspicion) that the crime did happen. And when the prosecutor files it with the court, this begins the court’s part of the criminal process.
The problem contains the solution: court process
So if a prosecutor claims a criminal act, you need help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer like Thomas Gallagher. So he can help you:
- understand the possible consequences,
- the defense goal for outcome, and
- strategies to avoid those consequences, and to achieve that outcome.
Attorney Thomas Gallagher will review the penalties with you. These include the presumptive sentence under the “Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines,” and any “mandatory minimum sentencing” laws. He will check the statutes in the Complaint against the claimed facts, for mistakes. Where appropriate, he’ll file a motion to dismiss charges.
The prosecutor’s filing of a Complaint with the court is a milestone event in the court process. So at that point, you need a defense attorney as soon as possible after a criminal charge. And for more about the charging document stage, see our page:
Pre-trial Release Hearing
After the prosecutor files the Complaint with the court, she may request the defendant’s arrest on a warrant. Or, the prosecutor asks the court to send the defendant a Summons to appear in court.
After an arrest on a warrant, the defendant appears before a judge for a pre-trial release hearing (or bail hearing). And at the hearing the judge will set conditions of pre-trial release, which may include bail.
This step in the court process determines whether the court will hold the defendant in jail pending trial; and how onerous the conditions of pre-trial release will be.
So for more on what to expect, see our pages:
- What is a Bail Hearing or Pre-trial Release Hearing?
- Get Out of Jail After Arrest – Tips for Getting Her Out
First Court Appearance
The “First Appearance” in court, after any bail hearing, is the first substantive step in the court process. (For defendants appearing on a Summons, it will be the literal First Appearance.) And for what to expect at a “Criminal Procedure Rule 5,” First Appearance in court, see our page:
Pre-trial Settlement Conference
We often have more than one court appearance between the First Appearance and the Jury Trial date. And these serve several purposes in the court process. One is to explore settlement possibilities with the opposing attorney and the court. But another is to manage the case with defense motions and planning. So for a discussion of what more to expect, see our page:
Contested Omnibus Hearing
The “contested omnibus hearing” can result in dismissal of charges, or suppression of evidence. And if the defense attorney identifies defense issues and files pre-trial motions, the court will hold a Contested Omnibus Hearing. So for our discussion of this step in the court process and what to expect, see our page:
Trial: core of the court process
The fact-finder at trial is either the jury-court or a judge without a jury. The accused can waive her right to a jury.
The trial should be a fair procedure to decide past events; and whether enough proof exists to prove a crime by the defendant. The defense lawyer can raise legal defenses at trial. And we provide a deeper look at the trial on our page:
In the court process, the defense attorney may persuade the prosecutor, or the judge, to dismiss the charges. Or, the defense attorney may help the jury bring a not-guilty verdict. And in either case, the accused won. So there would be no sentencing.
But if convicted, either after a plea agreement or a trial, the court will hold a sentencing hearing. And for a guide to better outcomes at a sentencing hearing, see our page:
Appeals are relatively unusual in the court process. But we must preserve our legal issues for a potential appeal, just in case.
If the accused wins the case, no defense appeal may be necessary. But if the prosecution convicts, the defendant may want to appeal legal errors. And the prosecutor can sometimes appeal a defense win.
So we preserve issues for appeal, in the Contested Omnibus Hearing, the Trial, and Sentencing.
Pardon & Expungement
“Collateral consequences” of convictions can ruin families, push people into a criminal lifestyle, and undermine the legal economy. So they are long-lasting.
So the best time to avoid conviction is while a charge is still pending. And with the best criminal attorney you can afford.
But what about the past, after it’s too late for that?
A person with a conviction record may eventually apply for a Pardon from the Minnesota Pardons Board.
And for some convictions, the defendant can eventually Petition a Judge for an Expungement Order. Some or all civil rights might be restored if successful. Find out more about see our page:
Guide to Minnesota Criminal Procedure & Court Process
Navigating the Court Process: Step-by-Step
The court process developed to serve many, sometimes conflicting, goals. And the Court’s Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure attempt to balance these.
For a look at the Federal Court Process.
Most people have seen legal dramas in television or films. And some have been to court on a traffic ticket. But when a person faces a charge of a crime in court, it becomes vital to understand criminal procedure. The more you know, the less you fear. And both will help you and your lawyer achieve a favorable outcome, with persistent effort.
Gallagher Criminal Defense is already helping you, now, with the information here, on this site.
So your criminal defense lawyer should be able to both educate you and guide you through the court process. And you should feel in control. Because together, we can fight to win.