Understanding a Criminal Case with Comparisons between Marion County and Hamilton County

This week’s blog takes a look at the path and life of a criminal charge.  How it starts, where it travels, and how it ends up.  For illustrative purposes, we will also contrast Marion County and Hamilton County. The team of experienced Indianapolis Criminal Defense Attorneys frequently practice in Marion and Hamilton counties, thus we have chosen these two for comparison.

The Arrest

The arrest can vary in its form depending on the county you are in and the severity of the crime.  For more minor crimes an officer may summons you into court.  These could include minor consumption, minor possession, possession of marijuana, and driving while suspended.  A “summons arrest” means the officer, at the time of the criminal activity, issues you a summons that orders you to go to court on a specific date, you are not formally put under arrest and taken to jail.  When and why officers choose to do a summons arrest is largely a matter of resources.  For example, in Marion County, the number of serious crimes committed is much higher than the number of serious crimes committed in Hamilton County.  Therefore, in Marion County, almost all Driving While Suspended cases are given a summons, while in Hamilton County most are out-right arrested.

This brings us to our next level of an arrest.  The out-right arrest.  This is the traditional “as seen in Hollywood” arrest.  At the time of the criminal conduct, the police officer arrests the suspect and takes them to jail for further processing.  All counties will use this form of arrest when the offense is of a more serious nature and there is a clear indication the suspect committed the crime.

The last form of arrest is arrest by warrant.  Many times the investigation of a crime takes weeks, months or even years to solve.  Once the police believe they have enough evidence against someone to file charges, they take their evidence to the prosecutor, who determines whether to file charges and request an arrest warrant.  If the judge reviewing the paperwork finds probable cause for the charges, a warrant will be issued (or again possibly a summons for a lesser offense) and the suspect may then be placed under arrest.  After issuance of a warrant, the police may then search for the suspect and place them under arrest.

After the Arrest (the Initial Hearing)

If you have been out-right arrested or arrested on a warrant, the steps are generally the same.  You will be taken to the jail where you will be seen by a judge within 72 hours.  This is your initial hearing.  At this initial hearing, you will be informed of your rights, an inquiry will be made as to whether you can afford counsel or need pauper counsel, and what if any bond you will have to post.  If you ask for pauper counsel, the court will ask a series of questions geared to determine if you can afford counsel.  If the court determines you are indigent, then you will be given pauper counsel, if however, you can afford counsel, the court may set a Review of Counsel date to determine if you have in fact hired counsel.  The Court will also set a bond or release you on your own recognizance (click here for our blog about bonds).  A number of factors come into play in how much your bond will be; ties to the community, criminal history, current probation status, seriousness of the offense, danger to the community, history of appearing in court, and if dependents are reliant on you for support.  Due to jail overcrowding, many lesser crimes in Marion County will be released without having to post bond.  In  Hamilton County bonds on lower level crimes is more common.

The Court will then set some very important court dates.  You will likely be given a pre-trial, omnibus, and trial date.  The pre-trial is just a hearing whereby the Court can track the progress of the case.  The omnibus date sets deadlines where certain motions and discovery must be completed.  The trial date is just that, the date your case is first set for a jury trial (for felony cases) or a bench trial (for misdemeanor cases).  Some courts will only set a pre-trial date at this point and set the trial date at a later time.  If you are in custody, you have the right to a speedy trial and can request one.  That will require the state to bring your case to trial within 70 days.

The Discovery Phase

The next phase of a criminal case is the discovery phase.  The length and depth of this phase can vary greatly depending on the level of the crime.  Obviously, the amount of time and discovery that goes into a misdemeanor case is going to be significantly different than what is expended on a homicide case.  During this stage, the parties can view the evidence, hire experts, have evidence tested, take depositions, interview witnesses, and request documents.  Another difference between Marion County and most other counties is that Marion County allows attorneys to take taped statements, by subpoena, instead of using a traditional court reporter.  This can save the client money, in as much as a court reporter can be expensive.  Under either method, witnesses are sworn in and the attorneys can ask questions related to the criminal charges.

Plea or Trial?

Once discovery is completed, the parties will begin negotiating to see whether or not they can come to an agreement as to a result.  If the parties reach an agreement, it is drawn up as a plea agreement.  This agreement may set forth all of the terms of the sentence or may leave portions of it open to the court.  A defendant may always also just plead open to the court and argue the sentence to the court.  If there is no agreement reached, then it is time to prepare for trial.  All felony cases are automatically set for a jury.  Misdemeanor cases automatically get a bench trial(tried to the judge).  A defendant must request a jury trial, if they want one, on misdemeanors.

The Plea Option

The plea agreement settles the vast majority of criminal charges.  Without plea agreements, our criminal justice system would fail, because there just are not enough resources to have trials on every criminal charge that is brought.  If a case is settled via a plea agreement, the parties sign a formal plea document, that advises the defendant of all the rights they are waiving and sets forth the terms of the agreement.  The judge, at sentencing, must then either accept or reject the plea agreement.  If the plea is accepted, the judge will sentence the defendant per the plea and the criminal case is over.  If it is rejected, the case is reset for trial and then a new plea may be worked out or the parties can proceed to trial.

The Trial Option

While the vast majority of cases settle by plea, numerous criminal cases do go to jury trial.  In Marion County where there are 24 criminal courts, it is not unusual for 5 or more juries to be going on at the same time.  The jury trial is the American Standard for Criminal Justice.  It allows members of the community, selected by both parties, to determine the facts and the laws of the case.  The jury trial involves jury selection, opening statements, presentation of evidence, closing arguments and deliberation.  Afterward, the jury will issue a guilty, not guilty or hung(can’t reach a consensus).  All members of the jury must agree on the verdict.   The other option is a bench trial.  The bench trial is similar to a jury trial, without the jury selection.  If the defendant is found not guilty, then the process is over.  If the defendant is found guilty, then the next step is sentencing.

Sentencing Phase

The sentencing phase is where the judge determines what sentence the defendant will do for the crime they were convicted of.  See our blog on possible penalties by clicking here.  The judge will sentence per the sentencing statute and that will bring the case to a conclusion. The experienced Indianapolis Criminal Defense Attorneys at Banks & Brower can help.

As you can see, the criminal process can be a daunting and intimidating one.  Your livelihood and freedom could be at stake.  To help you navigate this complicated process, you should contact the Experienced Attorneys and Banks & Brower, LLC.