Criminal Justice System: Pretrial Proceedings


An arraignment is a defendant's first appearance in court after being formally charged. The defendant is informed of the charges and the judge decides whether there is enough evidence to hold the defendant. If the defendant does not have an attorney, the court may appoint an attorney from the Department of Assigned Counsel (DAC) to represent the defendant.

Bail and Conditions of Release

In rare circumstances, the judge may order a defendant held in custody until trial, with no possibility of pre-trial release. In most cases, however, the judge will allow the defendant to be released 1) upon his or her own recognizance, 2) into the custody of a family member or some third party, or 3) upon posting bail (or bond) in a certain dollar amount.

The reason for requiring some defendants to post bail is to help ensure their appearance at all necessary hearings and trial. When bail is required, the judge will set the amount based on such factors as the seriousness of the offense, the defendant's prior criminal record, and the likelihood that the defendant will appear as ordered, given his or her ties to the community.
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Defendants who are released from custody must adhere to specific conditions set by the judge. These conditions may include things such as avoiding certain people or places, not drinking alcohol and demonstrating law-abiding behavior.

Trial Preparation and Pre-Trial Motions

Between arraignment and trial, many activities occur as attorneys for both the prosecution and defense build their cases for trial. The discovery process is a legally-required exchange of information. Each side reviews police reports, interviews witnesses, examines the evidence and conducts additional investigation. A number of court proceedings may also occur, including bail hearings, omnibus hearings, status conferences and various hearings on related motions. Such motions typically present legal issues regarding the admissibility of evidence.

Non-Trial Disposition

Sometimes the parties will enter into a plea agreement in lieu of proceeding to trial. The actual terms of a plea agreement can be complex and may include a stipulated sentence or sentencing range and an agreement to pay restitution. The Prosecutor's Office works to ensure that the disposition in every case is the right one, based on the nature and severity of the offense and the dangerousness and criminal history of the defendant.