Tuesday, 06 April 2010 06:17

After Bail Is Set

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After Bail Is Set

What happens after you post bail.

After a bail hearing, the next procedural step in many states is a preliminary hearing, which may take place several days or weeks after your arrest. At this hearing, the state will make a presentation of the evidence it has against you in order to show the court that a crime had been committed and that it had probable cause to arrest you for committing it. Your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses called by the state, and you may be able to call witnesses to testify on your behalf.

After hearing the state's case against you, the presiding judge will decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to proceed. Depending on the state in which the charges have been brought, the next step is to set a date for trial, or send the case to the grand jury. (In some states, charges are presented to the grand jury without the need for a preliminary hearing -- you can see why it's so important to have specific legal advice about the laws in your state.)

In states where a grand jury indictment is required, the state gets to present all the evidence it has in support of your arrest. You are not entitled to appear before the grand jury to defend yourself against the charges, nor may your attorney represent you at the proceedings. On the other hand, you need not appear before a grand jury if you are asked to do so, and depending on the nature of the crime and the evidence the state has collected against you, it may be unwise to do so, since your attorney won't be allowed to assist or advise you during the proceedings.

If the grand jury believes that there is enough evidence to make a trial worthwhile, it will return a "true bill of indictment" against you. You will then be arraigned before a criminal court judge, at which time you will enter a plea to the charges against you.

In criminal cases, you generally have three kinds of plea to choose from. You may plead "guilty," "not guilty," or "no contest" sometimes referred to as a plea of nolo contender. By pleading guilty, you avoid the necessity of a trial, but you also subject yourself to whatever punishment the court deems appropriate.

If you plead guilty in a serious case it's likely that you won't be sentenced immediately. Instead, the judge will send your case file to the state board of probation, where a probation officer will review the charges, any previous criminal record which you have, and your current family and job situation. After completing this review, the probation officer will send a recommendation to the court as to the sentence you should receive. While this report is influential, it is not binding, and unless the crime you committed carries a mandatory sentence imposed by statute, the judge may be able to modify your sentence by making it more or less severe.

Pleading "no contest" has essentially the same effect as pleading guilty, but with one very important difference. A guilty plea may be considered as evidence in a civil suit brought by the victim of your crime, while a no contest plea cannot be used against you.
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