Stages of the Criminal Justice Process

It’s important to understand your legal rights, defenses, consequences, and options when facing a criminal charge. It’s also wise to know how the federal justice system works if the legal situation is a federal offense. Most people are caught unaware and forced to erroneously depend on their little legal knowledge portrayed in law-related movies. In this kind of situation, you need to hire a federal criminal attorney immediately.

Why wait to be caught off-guard? Even if you’re innocent (free from any charge) you must know how the criminal justice process, including what goes on during investigation, trial, conviction, acquittal, and appealing– although a criminal attorney in Toronto can help you out.

Differences between Criminal and Civil Law

There are two types of laws that are often confused but they’re different and are applied differently. The differences between criminal and civil law include:


Criminal laws define crimes and establish the legal punishments for convicted criminals. Common crimes include arson, murder, assault, theft, and much more. Crimes are resolved through the criminal justice process in criminal courts.

On the other hand, civil laws provide recourse for private or individual wrongs. Civil statutes are applicable when the rights of an individual are violated or when resolving disputes between two parties, entities, or organizations. Some civil wrongs can be resolved out-of-court of law through mediation.

Burden of Proof

An accused person is considered innocent until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal actions and the burden of proof rests with the prosecuting attorney. Failure to prove the guilt of the accused of the defendant automatically establishes their innocence, attracting acquittal.

The burden of proof rests with the plaintiff or their legal team in civil lawsuits. Proving guilt in civil actions successfully involves stating the following perquisites:

  • The accused owed the plaintiff a standard duty of care;
  • The accused failed to exercise their duty of care;
  • The loss suffered by the plaintiff resulted from the negligence of the defendant;
  • The plaintiff must state a legal claim for injuries or property damage.

Legal Penalties

The penalties for a crime can include jail time (typically over 1 year), and serving a life sentence while the penalties of civil wrongs can either be restitution or injunction. Damages are awarded for quantifiable or subjective losses in civil claims where the quantifiable losses include medical expenses while subjective losses include pain and suffering. The jury can also award punitive damages to deter such offenses in the community.

Stages of the Criminal Justice Process

Criminal cases can vary depending on the uniqueness of each scenario. However, the criminal justice process is the same across the board. In simple terms, all crimes are resolved through the following steps:


The first step in any criminal process is investigating an alleged crime. Investigations are conducted by government agencies including:

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation –the FBI;
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration–the DEA;
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives –the ATF;
  • The U. S Secret Service–the USSS;
  • The Homeland Security Investigation.

One of the above-listed agencies gathers evidence and informs the prosecuting attorney to help them understand the case. Investigators must have a search or arrest warrant when engaging an accused person.


Once the prosecutor evaluates the evidence gathered, they move on to the next stage–deciding whether the evidence submitted can sustain a valid indictment (charge). The prosecutor presents evidence to a grand jury, consisting of 16 to 23 impartial citizens.

The grand jury then casts a secret vote to determine whether the evidence presented is sufficient to indict the accused person and consensus requires a minimum of 12 votes. A successful indictment means that the defendant is guilty and has a case to answer. This is the perfect time to consult a criminal attorney or a public defender if they can’t afford a lawyer.


Arraignment or initial appearance follows indictment almost immediately, where the accused appears before a jury for the initial hearing where they take a pleading–guilty or innocent. The judge gives a detailed account of the legal situation while stating their constitutional rights, the filed charges, right to legal representation. The jury can set a mini hearing for bail consideration. The bail hearing is critical for release from jail while the case is pending trial.

Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing follows a “not guilty” plea

If there is no plea deal and the defendant pleads not guilty, a preliminary hearing may be held within 14 days after the initial appearance for jailed defendants, and 21 days for bailed defendants.

5. Discovery

The discovery stage is somewhat similar to the trial stage, where the prosecuting attorney and the defendant are given a chance to present facts and defend themselves, respectively. This stage involves cross-examining witnesses, evaluating the submitted evidence after which a ruling is passed.

Criminal proceedings can be complex and require to be handled by an expert but if you’re confident you can make it without legal representation, you should gather evidence to build a strong defense.

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