Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyer

Criminal Court Procedures


The criminal court procedures in Alabama may seem a bit confusing to anyone who might be facing criminal charges for the first time.

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Learning how the system works has many benefits for individuals who find themselves involved in the legal system. It is crucial to know how the procedures work so that you can make sure that you understand your rights during every step of the process.

Failing to understand the process of going from an arrest through your trial can end up causing you to receive a higher sentence than was necessary, your rights being violated, or even a wrongful conviction.

Initial Arrest

There are two main ways that a person can begin the journey into the Alabama legal system.

Some individuals are accused of a crime by another person, and this complaint is severe enough for the police to come and arrest you pending investigation of the allegations against you. The other, more common way, is for you to be caught in a crime by the police.

Your arrest may be the result of a routine police stop. A routine stop by police officers is not considered to be an arrest, there is a difference. The police have to have probable cause to pull you over.

If you are weaving in and out of traffic, speeding, or your license plate number shows the vehicle you are in is stolen, these all are probable cause reasons to be pulled over.

During the stop, police will ask you questions regarding the reason for which you were pulled over. If the police enter your information into their database and your name pops up for an outstanding warrant, you can be arrested right there on the spot.

The police may have reason to believe you are a suspect in another crime or may have a warrant to search your home or vehicle. If they find evidence that suggests that you were involved in illegal activity, you will be arrested and brought into the station to be processed and charged.

Arraignment

After you have been processed and the criminal charges against you have been officially filed, you will have to make your initial appearance in court. This first appearance is known as an arraignment hearing. An arraignment hearing usually takes place about 72 hours after your arrest.

The purpose of the arraignment is to ask for your plea to the criminal charges being brought against you. You have at least three possible pleas that you can make at that time. The first plea that you can make regarding the charges is the guilty plea. Pleading guilty means that you are admitting that the facts of the crime are accurate and you were the individual responsible for committing the crime. At this point there is no need for any trial and you will move directly to being sentenced by the judge.

The second plea you can enter is the not guilty plea. This plea means that you are saying you were not involved in the carrying out of the crime you are being charged with. After entering this plea you will be given a court date for the start of your trial.

Alabama is one of the few states that has what is known as a “mute plea.” A mute plea means that you remain silent and do not enter an official plea. The court will enter a not guilty plea and a trial date will be set. The reason for being silent is that you avoid any indication that you agree with any of the proceedings against you.

Release on Bail

After the arraignment hearing, the court will decide whether or not you can be released until your trial date. The court might set up a specific amount for bail, and if you pay that amount you can be released from jail until time for your trial. Sometimes when the crime is serious or the defendant is a flight risk, they will deny bail so that the defendant must remain locked up until the trial.

Some individuals are “released on their own recognizance.” This means that the court believes your statement that you will not run if released and that you will show up for your court date.

There are several ways you can pay for your bail. You can either pay the full amount of the bail upfront or you can pledge some of your property. This means that if you pledge your house and are released on bail and you miss your court date, you could lose your home. The final method of paying bail is to get a bail bond.

Trial

The next phase in Alabama court procedures is your trial. During your trial, the prosecution will attempt to present a jury of your peers with evidence that proves you were involved in and responsible for the crime you are being charged with. The type of evidence that can be presented will vary from physical evidence like DNA or confiscated drugs to eyewitness testimony. Witnesses will be called to testify and the prosecution will ask questions in an attempt to prove your guilt. Your defense attorneys will be given access to the evidence against you and will also be given a chance to cross-examine, or ask questions of the witness brought to testify. You may testify yourself or remain silent.

After the defense has made its case and has attempted to provide a counter argument to the prosecution to prove your innocence, it will be up to a jury to decide whether or not to convict you of the charges.

Sentencing

At this point the jury has found you guilty and the judge will hand down your sentence based on the type of charges you are facing. There are two types of offenses. One type is a felony and the other a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors carry lesser penalties than felony charges.

Each of these two offenses is broken down into classes and then degrees. Different classes have different punishments that go along with them. The judge will assess all the facts of the crime in question, the degree of the crime, the class, and the type, and then hand down an appropriate sentence based on those guidelines.