The first thing that will happen after you are arrested and accused of a crime is that your bond will be set. Sometimes the bond is set by a judge at a court hearing. This is called bond court. For some crimes, the bond amount is already decided and you can be released from the police station and given a court date by a police officer.
If you can pay the bond amount, or are given a non-cash bond (such as an I-Bond), you will be set free on bond until your next court date. If you cannot pay the bond amount, or if bond is denied, you will be held in the county jail until the next court date.
2. Preliminary hearing and grand jury proceedings in a criminal case
For felony matters, the next court date following the bond hearing is usually the preliminary hearing, where the judge will decide if there is enough evidence against you to move forward with the felony case.
Instead of a preliminary hearing, sometimes a grand jury hearing is held. A grand jury is a group of people, just like a trial jury. They decide whether to issue an indictment (formal charge) against you. A grand jury proceeding is secret, meaning neither you nor your lawyer is allowed to be in the courtroom while it is taking place. You will find out afterwards if a trial will take place.
Either a preliminary hearing or a grand jury generally must take place within 30 days of your arrest, if you are being held at a county jail, or 60 days if you are out on bond. The only exceptions are if you created the delay, agreed to a continuance, or are not competent for trial because of mental illness.
3. Arraignment in a criminal case
Following either of these hearings is an arraignment, where the charges against you will be read out loud and you will have the opportunity to officially state (plea) that you are either guilty or not guilty.
The judge will also ask if you can afford a lawyer if one is not with you in court. A Public Defender may be appointed if you qualify. The State’s Attorney may also give your lawyer discovery (such as police reports) at the arraignment. Your lawyer is there to help you in your criminal case, but it is your decision whether you plead guilty or not guilty.
4. Criminal trial
Finally, if you have decided to plead not guilty and go to trial, your trial will begin. You can decide whether you want a jury trial or if you just want the judge to decide your case with no jury.
During the trial, both sides will have the opportunity to call witnesses to testify and present evidence to the judge or the jury. You will also have the opportunity to testify on your own behalf. You do not have to testify. Your lawyer will advise you what the best choice is in your particular situation. However, in the end this is your decision as well.
5. Settling your criminal case without going to trial
Generally, you can settle your criminal case without going to trial. This is called a plea bargain. There are also limited opportunities for deferred prosecution or alternative dispositions of the criminal case where the charges may be dismissed if you qualify and agree to the terms.