Facing criminal charges is frightening. When you're dealing with the possibility of arrest, you may not know what to do. With that in mind, the Law Offices of Dennis W. Stanford has prepared a guide to help understand the process and know your rights. If you have questions or feel that you may be investigated, contact our office in Clarksville, Tennessee, to schedule an appointment.
Upon arrest, you are detained by the police and are not free to leave. If the officer finds it appropriate, you may be restrained with handcuffs or zip ties. You may also be placed in a police vehicle or an enclosed area.
Booking: After your arrest, you will be brought to the police station for booking. You will be searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and asked for identifying information. Any property taken from you will be cataloged and stored.
Arraignment: Once you're charged, you will appear in court. This appearance is called an arraignment. If you have been held in jail, this will usually occur within 72 hours. If you're released or bonded out, you will be provided with your next court date and time.
At your arraignment, you will be asked to enter a plea to the crime(s) you are charged with. You may enter one of the following pleas for each charge:
Guilty: You admit that you committed the crime as stated. There will be no trial if you plead guilty.
Not Guilty: You deny the crime occurred as stated, or state that you did not commit it.
Mute: You simply say nothing, which prompts the court to enter a plea of "not guilty." This is typically the best course of action.
Release on Bail: In most cases, a bail will be set. This is an amount of money or property posted to ensure that you will appear in court on your prescribed hearing or trial date.
The court may set a trial date or docket call. A docket call is a court date on which you can advise the court of the attorney that will be representing you. If you have no representation, you may request additional time to retain an attorney. The arresting officer and witnesses will likely not be in court for a docket call, and your case will not be resolved during this hearing. The judge will either set another docket call or set a trial date.
This is the date on which the witnesses will appear and the case will be resolved. If a plea bargain—an agreement between the defense and the prosecution—is reached, the trial will not continue. If no such agreement is reached, the court will proceed with the trial.
You have a number of rights during your trial:
Speedy Trial: A trial must be held within a reasonable time period after you're initially charged.
Trial by Jury: You're entitled to a trial by jury if charged with a crime punishable by 6 or more months of jail time. You may waive this right by requesting a bench trial, which takes place in front of a judge with no jury.
Effective Assistance of Counsel: You have the right to an attorney, who must do a reasonably good job in defending you at trial.
Right to Remain Silent: You are not required to testify at your trial.
Right to Confront Witnesses: You or your attorney must be allowed to cross-examine any witnesses who testify against you.
If you are convicted or enter a plea bargain, the Court will sentence you. Possible punishments include:
Fine(s): A financial punishment usually for less serious crimes or in addition to other sentence requirements.
Jail or Prison Time: Reserved for more serious crimes—including felonies—or as mandated by State law.
Restitution: Financial compensation paid to the other party for damages or losses caused by a crime.
Probation: You are kept out of jail for an established period of time as long as you comply with the terms of your particular probation. This can include paying court costs and fines in a timely manner, community service, drug, and alcohol assessment(s) and testing, checking in with your probation officer in-person, by phone, or mail, or any other requirements that the court orders.
These can include stipulations like participating in a drug and alcohol assessment, rehabilitation, community service, or attending a victim impact panel. Other possible sentences include:
Death: Also referred to as Capital Punishment, the death penalty is reserved for sentencing in the most serious felony cases, such as criminal homicide.
Appeals: After conviction and sentencing, you will have an opportunity to file an appeal. An appeal is not a retrial of the case. It is an examination of the trial record meant to ensure that proper procedure was followed by all parties in a fair manner. There are strict deadlines when filing an appeal. Always discuss the reasons for, and the appropriateness of, an appeal with your attorney.