What Are the Three Main Stages in a Criminal Case?

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It is normal to feel anxious about the future if you, a family member, or a close friend face criminal charges. Much of this anxiety can originate from the unpredictability of the legal process, possible exposure, and the strength of your case.

Even if such charges are minor, the uncertainty surrounding a case can be very stressful. The totality of the legal process may quickly become overwhelming, especially if you do not have any experience with criminal law. 

From your perspective, the prosecution’s case may seem too strong to challenge, threatening your future. However, this is often not the case.

Learning about the major stages of a criminal case could help you better understand the ensuing legal process and how to properly defend yourself. Additionally, having knowledge about the different phases could help you comprehend the nature of the evidence presented at each step. The deconstructed view may also make it easier to follow your case.

So, what are the main stages of a criminal case?

The Investigatory Stage

At this level, law enforcement agents will assess the facts of your case. This process involves close scrutiny of the available evidence, including witness statements, investigators’ notes, audio-visual evidence, and documents.

As a defendant, you also have a constitutional right to access and analyze the evidence against you. This right denotes the importance of discovery in the investigatory stage, which is the process of learning about the evidence being prepared for your case. You could issue subpoenas for documents held by the prosecution or for deposing witnesses. During deposition, witnesses provide sworn testimonies before trial.

Collecting information during the investigatory stage could help you learn about the facts of your case. This knowledge may be crucial in understanding your charges and structuring strong arguments for court.

Once the investigation is done, you should meet your lawyer to deliberate on strategy and options. The consequent discussions will inform how to proceed with the rest of the trial.

The Motion Stage

This stage provides grounds to start demonstrating your innocence based on the case facts collected during discovery. Your lawyer could use the acquired information to file motions to have your case dismissed or some pieces of evidence suppressed.

You could file a motion to dismiss the case if you reach a settlement. Other possible grounds for dismissal include:

  • Failure to join a party under Rule 19
  • Failure to give a claim with enough grounds for a relief
  • Inadequate service of process
  • Insufficient process
  • Improper venue
  • A lack of personal jurisdiction
  • A lack of subject-matter jurisdiction

The motion to suppress can seek the exclusion of specific evidence from the trial. The common grounds for such a motion include:

  • Failure to preserve the chain of custody of evidence
  • A defective or deficient search warrant
  • Improper Mirandization
  • Evidence acquisition violated your right to a lawyer
  • Evidence was collected through an unreasonable search

The Trial Stage

If you do not settle in the motion stage, the case proceeds to trial. Trials can be highly uncertain, making it vital to be fully prepared.

Here, based on available evidence, the jury or judge will rule on your case. The prosecution bears the burden of proof at this stage, and they must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has committed the charged crimes.

If found guilty, an appropriate sentence based on the law is given. If not guilty, the case is dismissed.

Insider’s Takeaway

A criminal case has three main phases: investigatory, motion, and trial. However, going to trial is not always mandatory. A trial should always be the last resort as it can be lengthy and costly. Here, you also will not have control over the proceedings. 

Having the best criminal lawyer by your side can make all the difference as you move through the stages of a case. With a strong defense, it could be possible to avoid the more severe outcomes of a charge and move forward with your life.

Interesting Related Article: “The Process of Going Through a Criminal Case