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Criminal justice system in a nutshell.
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 It has come to my attention recently that many people are very confused by the criminal process and the steps involved.  Here is the process in a nutshell.Most people do not know the various words, terms, and steps that are used in a typical criminal matter, from arrest to disposition in felony cases. This article is a brief synopsis of what official steps are taken from the beginning until the end.

Step 1:  Arrest.  The first step, again generally, in a criminal matter is an arrest.  I will use the generic crime of burglary for this synopsis.  An alarm is tripped and the police show up to investigate a burglary.  They see a suspicious person standing around the scene of the alarm and decide to question the person.  They say the description they have of the suspect matches the description of the person they are questioning so they place them under arrest.

Step 2:  Initial Appearance.  After the suspect has been arrested they have 48 hours, in Mississippi, in which to be brought before a magistrate for their initial appearance.  The purpose of an initial appearance is be informed of the charges against them and have a bond set.   If the person can make the bond, there is no preliminary hearing.  If the person can not make a bond, of if they are held without a bond, the next step is a preliminary hearing.

Step 3: Preliminary hearing.  Ostensibly, a preliminary hearing is held to determine if there is enough probable cause to hold the defendant in jail awaiting action by the Grand Jury.  The burden of proof at the preliminary hearing is probable cause, an extraordinarily low threshold for the prosecution to meet.  Hearsay is allowed and very few cases are not bound over for the Grand Jury, regardless of where you are.

Step 4: Grand Jury/Indictment.  Whether a defendant makes bond or not, the case, should the DA wish to proceed, is then turned over to the Grand Jury where the members decide whether or not to indict the defendant for the crime charged.  As the old saying goes, you can indict a ham sandwich, so few cases presented to the grand jury do not result in an indictment.  Since Grand Jury proceedings are secret, there is no way to know the percentage of what is presented compared to what is indicted, but after 8 plus years of practice, it has been my experience that very little of what is presented is no billed, or not indicted.

Step 5:  Serving the capias/Arraignment.  All the proceeding steps in the criminal justice system were done at a lower court/Grand Jury, and there was no way to have an official final disposition of the case.  Now the matter has reached the circuit court level where the matter will be finally resolved.  Once a person has been indicted, the sheriff will serve a capias, which is the criminal equivalent of a civil summons on a complaint, on the defendant.    The capias will have the indictment attached informing the defendant of the the official charges against them.  The defendant is given a court date to appear and be arraigned.  At this point, the defendant either hires an attorney or asks the court to appoint them a lawyer.  At the arraignment the defendant pleads not guilty, regardless of  the strength of the case.

Step 6:  Discovery.  After the arraignment, the attorney procures the discovery from the district attorney's office, generally through a motion for discovery.  The discovery is supposed to include all the evidence the State has to prosecute the defendant.  It never does.  The attorney and client review the discovery, discuss the plea bargain offered by the State, and decide what, if any, motions need to filed.

Step 7:  Plea.   If the client chooses to accept the plea bargain, the next step is a plea in the circuit court and the beginining of the service of whatever sentence is imposed by the court.  A sidenote here.  The Judge is not a party to the plea negotiations and is not bound by the recommendation.  

Step 7a:  Trial.  If the client does not accept the plea bargain, or did not commit any crime(and believe me, innocent people are arrested all the time), the next step is a trial.  A trial consists of various steps that will be laid out in a later post.  If the jury votes to acquit, the client is discharged and finally gets back to their lives.  If the jury votes to convict, the attorney files a JNOV, which means for a new trial.

Step 8:  Appeals.  In the very likely event the judge denies the motion for a new trial, a Notice of Appeal is filed where the convicted defendant begins the process of appealing their conviction to the Mississippi Supreme Court.  The vast majority of trials are assigned to the Mississippi Court of Appeals which decide whether or not to affirm the conviction or reverse the conviction and remand the case  to the trial court , or in the very, very rare case, reverse the conviction and render the defendant not guilty.

Step 9:  Mississippi Supreme Court.  Should the Court of Appeals affirm the conviction, the final step for a defendant is to petition the Mississippi Supreme Court to grant a writ of certiorari, which is a plea for the highest court to review the decision of the Court of Appeals and grant relief.


Depending on the county the offense occurs in, the time from arrest to the Mississippi Supreme Court can take years and years.  Some counties are faster than others but regardless, it is a long, time consuming process. If you find yourself in this position, make sure you have a lawyer who can properly defend you.







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