Criminal Case

How does a criminal case get started?
Usually a case starts with the police taking an initial report from someone. They then conduct an investigation and usually turn their information over to the Office of the District Attorney or other similar prosecutorial agency. Staff at that office will review the information to determine if a case should be filed and what charges should be included. Once that determination is made a formal paper is filed with the courts to start the case.

If the situation that started this process was serious, the police may have already arrested someone and are holding that person in custody. If that is true, this process must go very quickly and the law generally requires that you be brought to court within 72 hours of your arrest. This 72 hour time period is somewhat longer where weekends or court holidays are counted. It can actually occur that someone is not taken to court following arrest for up to 5 calendar days.

If the person was not arrested, or if the person arrested was allowed to post bail or a bond, this process may be delayed by the arresting agency or the prosecuting agency for some relatively short period of time. However, once an arrest has occurred, the state does have an obligation to charge you within certain time limits. This does not mean that you should wait to see if you are going to be charged with a crime before getting the help of an attorney. In most circumstances you may hurt your position by waiting. Even in this early stage of a case, there are a number of things an attorney can do to help protect you.  Unfortunately, the Public Defender Offices cannot offer attorney services before being appointed by the court at arraignment.  If you can afford to do so, it is always wise to consult with an attorney as soon as possible.
Whenever your case first comes to court, the first thing a court is required to do is to arraign you on the charges you are facing. This process requires that you be told about the charges that you are facing, that you be asked whether you wish to be represented by an attorney and that you then enter a plea to the charges. You can choose to delay the entry of your plea under most circumstances but the arraignment is not complete until you enter your plea. The proceedings that occur after the arraignment will depend on the nature of the charges against you.