North Dakota, like all other states, has a specific procedure in place for trying adults who are accused of criminal offenses. The criminal process of the state is an umbrella term that refers to a chronology of hearings and events that lead up to the trial proper and eventually the verdict and sentencing.
The judiciary would never find out about criminal acts if not for the police!
Although the judiciary holds the card of authority in the criminal justice network of the state, it is the police who investigate all criminal occurrences. They respond to complaints filed by civilians against such infractions. In the course of making sense of the crime that has been committed, the police may make arrests or approach the tribunal for an ND active warrant.
It all depends on the crime in question. While arrests without outstanding warrants are allowed in case of felonies as long as the police have probable cause, this facility is not available in case of misdemeanor offenses. To apprehend an accused who has to be detained in connection with a misdemeanor, cops either need an arrest warrant or a police officer has to bear witness to the crime.
How does information on the crime reach the bench?
If an arrest warrant from ND is required, the sheriff's office files a complaint with the local court detailing the crime and the alleged perpetrator along with the evidence against him. Alternatively, the prosecution could file the plea for a grand jury hearing. In both scenarios, it has to be shown that cops do have reasonable cause to assume that the said criminal act was commissioned by the person in question. If jurors agree with the prosecution and the police on this, they will return the indictment which will lead to the issue of an active warrant.
The rights of an arrestee
Apart from Miranda Rights that allow you to be silent when being taken into custody and not say or do anything that will be held against you in the court of law, all detainees also have the right to request bail. For this, the accused is taken to court, usually within 48 hours of being taken into custody. The judiciary will consider release under bail only if the suspect does not pose a threat to the victim, the evidence or to the society in general.
At the very first hearing in court, the defendant will be advised on his rights and the charges filed against him. If he is being accused of a misdemeanor, a plea will have to be entered at this stage. For felonies, this happens during the second court session. A plea is essentially the way in which the defendant conveys his agreement or disagreement of the charges sought against him. So, the suspect can admit a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.
Not everybody is entitled to a plea bargain!
Negotiations between the two sides before the matter is bounded over for trial are held for two reasons:
- To avoid going through the court fight and save judicial resources
- When either the prosecution or the defense feels that they have a weak case.
What gets offered in return for pleading guilty will depend on how sure the prosecution is of getting a conviction.
Typically, the charges will be lower than those originally filed hence the sentence is also expected to be lighter.
The actual trial
This is generally held about 90 days after the accused was first detained. Criminal matters are tried either in front of the judge or the jurors who listen to evidence and arguments from both sides. If it is a bench trial, the judge will issue the verdict. However, for jury trials all jurors have to agree with the verdict for it to hold merit. If they do not have a unanimous decision, the matter goes to retrial. If found guilty, the accused is sentenced by the judge.