Common Criminal Process Terms Defined

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Common Criminal Process Terms Defined

Common Criminal Process Terms DefinedBeing charged with any crime is scary. Your liberty and reputation are at stake. If convicted, you may be imprisoned. You may have to pay heavy fines. You may lose certain rights such as the right to drive or own a gun. The whole process from the initial arrest can be confusing and intimidating.

Your first step should be to call an experienced Knoxville lawyer immediately. Skilled criminal defense lawyers will immediately explain what you should and, most importantly, what you should not say. They will assert your rights so that you can obtain bail and have a fair trial. They will guide you through each phase of the criminal justice process

What you should not do is assume you understand the law based on what you’ve seen on TV, the movies, read on the Internet, or heard from friends. Legal words such as arrest, bail, and indictment have precise legal meanings. The meanings to words can vary depending on whether federal charges or state charges are brought.

Some of the initial terms that anyone charged with a crime will learn in more detail when they speak with their attorney are:

  • Arrest. A seizure is generally considered to be an arrest when someone who is suspected of criminal activity is detained for longer than a brief investigation and forced to answer for their conduct through the criminal justice systems. The police can only arrest someone if they have “probable cause” to believe the person has committed a crime. When someone is arrested, they should immediately be given their Miranda rights. These rights include the right to speak with a lawyer and to remain silent.
  • Bail. Defendants should have a fair chance to present their best defense. They also should not be forced to spend time in jail until they are convicted unless there are very strong reasons for keeping them imprisoned pending the trial. Bail is the right of a defendant to request, with the help of legal counsel, that he/she be released from jail/prison after an arrest. Judges normally either release defendants on their own recognizance or require some type of payment or bond. If a payment or bond is required, defense counsel seek to have it be a sum that is affordable by the defendant or by family and friends of the defendant.
  • Indictment. This is the formal accusation that someone has committed a crime. Indictments are brought if a grand jury of citizens decides that the government has enough evidence to file the accusation. It is sometimes said that a Grand Jury “will indict a ham sandwich,” because except in very rare circumstances, the Grand Jury only hears the government’s side of the case.
  • Arraignment. This court proceeding normally takes place a few days after someone is arrested. At the arraignment, the prosecution presents the formal charges against the defendant. The charges include identifying which statutes were violated on which specific dates. The defendant is then given the right to plead not guilty or guilty to the charges.
  • The preliminary hearing. A defendant has a right to a preliminary hearing in Tennessee, when the defendant is arrested and initially charged pursuant to an arrest warrant. In those circumstances, the case begins in General Sessions court. The purpose of the hearing is to decide if there is probable cause that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it and that the case should move forward to the Grand Jury. The government will need to present evidence usually in the form of the testimony of the arresting police officer and possibly the testimony of other witnesses. The defense has the right to question the police officer and the witnesses and to call witnesses on the defendant’s behalf. Normally, the defendant does not present any evidence at the preliminary hearing, however.

At Banks and Jones, our criminal defense lawyers have been helping defendants obtain justice for more than 25 years. We explain each phase of the criminal process. We work to have cases dismissed before trial and to negotiate fair plea agreements. We’re ready to Fight 2 Win when a case goes to trial. To speak with an experienced and aggressive Knoxville criminal defense lawyer, call us today at 865.407.2122 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment.


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