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Step by Step Civil Process

The Process of Defending a Criminal Case

When you or someone you love is charged with a crime, you likely have many questions. Why did this happen? What are my options? What should I do next? We at Boland Aarab PLLP understand that this can be an immensely stressful time for you and your loved ones, and the next steps are not always clear. We created this step-by-step guide to help you through this process so you can better understand what to expect and what your next steps should be. This is only a general guide designed to answer basic questions and we recommend that if you or someone you know has been charged or may be charged with a criminal offense that you sit down with a criminal defense lawyer in order to discuss your available options for your specific case.

The criminal justice system can be complex and confusing and the experienced team at Boland Aarab PLLP is here to help!

CONTACT US FOR A FREE CASE EVALUATION. 

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Step-by-Step Process

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After Arrest, Jail, and Subsequent Court Proceedings

After arrest for a misdemeanor in Montana, you will be taken to jail, booked, and brought before a judge within 48 hours. This first appearance before the judge is often referred to as the “initial appearance,” and during that time the judge will ensure you understand what you have been charged with. Once you confirm that you understand your charges, you will typically be arraigned, meaning the judge will ask you how you plead to the charges. If the offense with which you are charged carries the possibility of a jail sentence, you will be invited to hire an attorney privately or to apply for representation by the Office of the Public Defender if you qualify. You will then be given a bond, which is the amount of money you have to produce in order to be set free while you await your next appearance. The amount of bond you need to pay is dependent on the type of crime(s) you have been charged with, the perceived flight risk and risk to the community, and your criminal history. Provided that you appear at all of your required court hearings, your bond will be refunded at the conclusion of your case. However, if you are unable to pay the entire amount you can hire a bail bondsman who will pay your bond in exchange for a non-refundable payment, which is typically 10% of your bond. For example, if your bond was set at $10,000 and you cannot pay that amount, you could instead pay a bail bondsman $1,000 and they would pay the rest. It is important to note that regardless of the outcome of the case, when you hire a bail bondsman, the 10% fee is non-refundable, so if you pay a bondsman $1,000 you will not have that returned to you.

In the event that you are unable to post bail and are unable to obtain a bond, you are entitled to a bail reduction hearing. At the hearing you can request that your bail be lowered or eliminated entirely so that you can be released on your own recognizance. The judge at the hearing will consider your arguments for reducing or eliminating your bail and will determine at that time whether your bail will be lowered or raised or remain the same.

Your Initial Meeting with a Lawyer

During your initial meeting with a lawyer, he or she should explain how attorney-client privilege works, allow you to explain the events leading up to your charges, and should begin to develop a strategy for resolving your case. Typically, this involves the lawyer requesting discovery from the prosecutor, who is the representative for the State of Montana. Discovery in this context refers to the evidence that the State has collected against you. This includes but is not limited to witness statements, police reports, surveillance, photos, and forensic evidence. Once your lawyer has had a chance to review your discovery, he or she should be able to give you a better idea of the next steps that need to be taken, your potential options, and what you should expect if the case goes to trial.

Depending on the type of discovery the State produces, your lawyer may recommend different strategies. For example, if there is evidence against you which was obtained in violation of your state or federal constitutional rights, the lawyer may move to suppress the evidence in order to prevent it from being used against you. However, as discovery is particular to the individual and his or her case, your lawyer will need to review it and then give you a recommendation based on the lawyer’s experience and training.

If you are offered a plea deal

In criminal cases, you are guaranteed the right to a trial by jury for all offenses which carry any risk of potential incarceration. In reality, most cases do not go to trial. Most are resolved by the defendant taking a plea deal. While you have a right to a jury trial, sometimes it is in your best interest to accept a plea deal. The lawyers at Boland Aarab PLLP will take the time to fully explain the pros and cons of accepting a plea deal and will work with you to ensure that you can make an educated decision based on your specific needs. In the event that you decide you want to go to trial, the experienced trial lawyers at Boland Aarab PLLP will be with you every step of the way.

Other Possible Court Appearances

As each case is unique, there are a variety of different court appearances that can be required when you are charged with a crime. Below is a non-exhaustive list of the different types of court hearings you may be required to participate in. The lawyers at Boland Aarab PLLP carefully walk their clients through each type of appearance prior to the court date so the client knows what to expect.  

  • Omnibus hearings

    • This hearing is an opportunity for the Court to address scheduling issues and deadlines for the parties to file certain motions. Additionally, it is an opportunity for the defendant to raise certain defenses. While some courts require a defendant to attend omnibus hearings, other courts do not. Your lawyer should be aware of which courts require the defendant to appear at omnibus hearings and should let you know in advance so you can plan to attend when required.

 

  • Hearings on motions

    • Sometimes a party will file a motion requesting the Court to rule on an issue. For example, the defense may file a motion to have evidence or statements gathered against the defendant suppressed, meaning that they cannot be used against the defendant in court. When this occurs, the Court will often schedule a Hearing on Motions in order to take testimony and evidence or to hear the legal arguments from the attorneys on both sides.

 

  • Status hearings

    • In the event your case goes to trial, courts will frequently set a status hearing shortly before the trial date. This is typically done to inform the Court whether the parties are negotiating a plea agreement or whether the parties expect the case to go to trial as scheduled.

 

  • Change of plea hearings

    • Often the parties in a case will reach an agreement prior to trial. For example, in a criminal case the defendant may reach a plea agreement with the State in order to avoid a trial. If the parties are able to agree on a plea deal, the trial will be vacated (canceled) and a change of plea hearing will be set. During this type of hearing, the Court will inquire about the specifics of the plea deal and will advise the defendant of his or her rights and the consequences of waiving certain rights by accepting a plea agreement. The Court will also inform the defendant of the penalties associated with the plea deal. After confirming that the defendant understands all of this, the Court will accept the plea and will set a date for the sentencing hearing.

 

  • Jury confirmation hearings

    • When a defendant and the State are unable to reach a plea agreement which both sides find acceptable, the parties may move forward with plans for a trial. This involves the selection of the members of the jury. Selecting jury members takes considerable time and is expensive. Due to the cost, the Court frequently holds a jury confirmation hearing to ensure this is the final decision of the parties. Jury confirmation hearings are mandatory for defendants to attend, and failure to appear can result in waiver of a defendant’s right to a trial by jury and/or a warrant issuing for the defendant’s arrest.

 

  • Pretrial conferences

    • Some courts set a pretrial conference prior to a trial. Similar to a jury confirmation hearing or a status hearing, this is an opportunity for the Court to check in with the parties and verify that they still intend to proceed to trial. Some Courts use this opportunity to address substantive issues regarding the trial, like settling jury instructions or reaching agreements regarding stipulations as to the admissibility of certain items of evidence.

The Trial

In the event your case goes to trial, you will first go with your lawyer to court for a pretrial conference. During this proceeding your lawyer and the prosecutor representing the State will decide how they want to approach the trial, whether the trial will be a bench trial (meaning a trial before the judge) or a jury trial (meaning a trial before a jury of your peers), will submit their recommended jury instructions (the instructions which are read to the jury and will be used to decide whether you are guilty or innocent), and will work out any other minor details that need to be determined prior to the commencement of the trial. Your lawyer should then meet with you after the conference to explain the next steps and walk you through what to expect at the trial.

What to expect at trial

If your case goes to trial, it will most likely be a jury trial. At the beginning of a jury trial both lawyers will conduct what is referred to as voir dire. During this process the lawyers will ask potential jurors questions to help them determine who they wish to be on your jury. Once the questions are completed and the correct number of jurors have been selected, the jury will be sworn in and the actual trial will begin. The next stage of the trial process is opening statements. The State always goes first during criminal trials as they have the burden of proving the charges against you “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Once both sides have completed their opening statements, both sides will begin to call witnesses to the stand to ask them questions. Each side will have the opportunity to ask each witness questions. Also, during this time both sides will begin to introduce evidence which they will present to the jury to either strengthen their claims or weaken the claims by the opposing party. Once all of the witnesses have been called, and all of the evidence has been presented to the jury, each side will make a closing argument, during which time they will summarize the evidence and testimony for the jury and ask them  to return a verdict of guilty or not guilty. The jury will then leave the courtroom in order to deliberate. Deliberation can take minutes, hours, or even days. When the jury is done deliberating, they will come back into the courtroom to deliver their verdict. Depending on the number of offenses you have been charged with, the jury can find you innocent of all charges, innocent of some and guilty of others, or guilty of all charges. However, in the event the jury is unable to agree, a mistrial will be declared. It is then up to the State to decide whether to try you again in front of a  different jury.

After the Verdict

If you are found not guilty of all charges, then you have been acquitted and are free to go. However, in the event that you are found guilty on any of the charges, the next step will be for you to return to court for your sentencing hearing. The judge will review your criminal history and the facts of the case, and will consider victim impact statements if they are given and will then sentence you. Your sentence refers to the punishment the judge gives you for your offense(s). The attorneys at Boland Aarab PLLP prepare clients thoroughly for sentencing so clients are not caught off guard.

Collateral consequences

If you are convicted of a criminal offense, you may face collateral consequences in addition to the sentence imposed by a judge. For example, there are rules restricting firearm possession, immigration benefits, and receipt of public welfare for people convicted of certain offenses. Depending on the offense of conviction, there may be a requirement to register with the sexual and violent offender registry, or the possibility that a later conviction will carry harsher penalties. The attorneys at Boland Aarab PLLP are prepared to explain these and other collateral consequences to their clients and to mitigate them to the extent possible.

 

Appealing your sentence

In the event that you are found guilty, you may be able to appeal your conviction or sentence to the next highest court. The attorneys at Boland Aarab PLLP are experienced appellate lawyers, which means that if you choose to appeal your conviction or sentence, you may be able to retain them as your lawyers during the appellate process.

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