Circumstances for an arrest

-A police officer observes the commission of a crime

-An officer has what is called “probable cause” to suspect that a crime took place

-The suspect is booked at a police station

The suspect is placed in custody, or if the offense is minor, the suspect may be instructed to appear in court on a specific date. If this individual is granted bail, the bail can be made and the suspect released on the commitment to appear at all court proceedings on the schedule. Suspects may also be released on their own “recognizance” and not pay bail, but they must commit to a written promise to appear in court when instructed. Release upon one’s recognizance is granted by the court after it considers the suspect’s ties to family, whether the individual is employed, the gravity of the offense and whether the individual has a criminal record or poses a threat in any way to the community.



The first court appearance is the arraignment in which the judge recites the charges against the defendant. The individual who is charged enters a plea of “not guilty,” “no contest” or “guilty.” Then, the judge announces the bail for the defendant and sets a court date.

As a rule, the government brings criminal charges by what is termed a “bill of information” secured by a grand jury indictment or a preliminary hearing that establishes probable cause. If there is no discovery of probable cause, a defendant will not be required to stand trial. In the federal system, grand jury indictments bring forth cases, but states may use either grand jury or a “bill of information” validated by a preliminary hearing.


Preliminary Hearing or Proceedings with a Grand Jury

A preliminary hearing is conducted to establish probable cause. Witnesses testify, and attorneys on both sides make arguments, but only the prosecutor presents the case during grand jury proceedings. A grand jury may call witnesses they choose and request further investigations. Afterward, the grand jury decides if there is sufficient evidence to warrant an indictment against the defendant.


Pre-Trial Motions and the Trial

To resolve final issues about testimony and evidence, the attorneys for the prosecution and those for the defense establish what will be admissible in the trial. In the trial, the prosecutor must bear the burden of proof. The jury or the judge decides if the defendant is innocent or guilty. Judges may declare a mistrial if verdicts are not unanimous. A new jury may, then, be chosen, or the case may be dismissed.