What to Do if You’ve Been Charged With a Criminal Charge

Daisy Rogozinsky
July 25, 2022

Being charged with a crime for the first time can be scary as you do not know what to expect to happen next or the steps that you are supposed to take. To help demystify the process, we put together this guide to what happens and what you need to do if you’ve been charged with a criminal charge.

Misdemeanor Charges

The process of being charged with a crime is different depending on if the crime is a misdemeanor or a felony. For a misdemeanor, the process is as follows.

1. Hire a Lawyer

The very first thing that you should do when charged with a crime is hire a lawyer. They are necessary to represent you, guide you through the process, and increase the chances that you receive as light of a sentence as possible. 

2. Go to Your Arraignment

The first court appearance in a misdemeanor case is called an arraignment. At your arraignment, you will be notified of the charges against you and your right to an attorney. This is where you will need to plead guilty or not guilty. 

If you plead guilty, the judge will proceed directly to sentencing. 

3. Attend Your Pre-Trial Hearing

If you plead not guilty, you will have to attend a pre-trial hearing. At the hearing, the attorneys will discuss the case and, often, reach a plea bargain.

4. Go to Trial

If a plea bargain is not reached, you will need to make another appearance in court for a trial. Your trial may be judged either by a jury of 6 people or a judge. 

5. Proceed to Sentencing

If you are found guilty, the judge will proceed to sentencing either on the same day as your trial or later on. Thankfully, sentences for misdemeanors are not as severe as felony sentences. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor offense is up to 1 year in jail. Other common misdemeanor sentences include community service, probation, and electronic home monitoring. 

6. Serve Your Sentence

If you are found guilty and sentenced, your next and final step will be to serve your sentence, whatever it may be. 

Felony Charges

If you are charged with a felony, the process you will need to follow will proceed thus.

1. Navigate Your Arrest

It is likely that the process of being charged with a felony will begin with an arrest. While you are being arrested, it is highly recommended to exercise your right to remain silent in order to avoid incriminating yourself. It is also suggested to remain calm and polite in order to avoid appearing guilty. 

2. Hire a Lawyer

Like with misdemeanors, it is incredibly important to hire a lawyer as early on as possible to help you understand and exercise your rights and have somebody on your side fighting for you. 

3. Make an Initial Appearance in Court

During your initial appearance in court, usually taking place within one or two days of your arrest, you will be informed of the charges against you. Bail will be set and a future hearing will be scheduled. You will not be required to enter a plea at this point. 

4. Attend Your Omnibus Hearing

During an omnibus hearing, the prosecution must provide evidence to provide probable cause for the charges against you. If they can not, you may be able to have your case dismissed. At this point, the lawyers may also discuss potential plea bargains.

5. Go To a Pre-Trial Conference

If your case proceeds past the omnibus hearing, you will often get a pre-trial conference to try to reach a plea agreement. If you do not, your case will be scheduled for a trial. 

6. Go To Trial

You can choose whether your trial will be judged by 12 jurors or a judge. 

7. Proceed to Sentencing 

If you plead guilty at any point or are convicted at trial, you will have a sentencing hearing where the judge will give you your sentence. If you are sentenced to time in prison, you will be taken into custody immediately. If you are sentenced to a period of local jail time or home monitoring, you will be allowed to turn yourself in within a few weeks.

8. Serve Your Sentence

If you are convicted, your final step will be to serve your sentence. There are a few ways you may be able to reduce your sentence, including:

  • Becoming a cooperating witness or testifying against another individual in exchange for leniency
  • Petitioning the court for a sentence reduction or early release on the grounds of compassionate release, used for defendants who are extremely advanced in age and/or terminally ill
  • Using second-look sentencing, which provides a legal mechanism for judges to review and modify individual sentences
  • Being granted good time for obeying prison rules or participating in programs during their incarceration

General Tips for What To Do When You’ve Been Charged With a Crime

1. Be Honest With Your Lawyer

In working with your attorney, remain as honest as possible so they are able to give you the best defense they can. Attorney/client privilege will ensure they do not share this information with anybody else.

2. Do Not Talk About Your Case

Avoid speaking with friends, family, strangers, or media about your case as anything you share is not protected and can potentially be used against you.

3. Write Down What You Remember

To help with your defense, take the time as early as you can in the process to write down everything you remember about what took place, as well as the contact information of any possible witnesses who can corroborate your story.

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