Criminal Law

The Cycle of a Criminal Case

The cycle of a criminal case varies by situation and various portions can be omitted from the process for numerous reasons. Severity dictates the amount of time and manpower allocated to each portion of the process. Knowing what to expect can be extremely advantageous should you or someone you love find yourselves in this predicament.

Arrest or Citation

If a citation is issued, the process ends here if you choose to simply pay the citation. Should you dispute the citation, you can proceed directly to the hearing portion. In most cases, this will also include the sentencing portion. Should you be placed under arrest, the chance of going to jail increases. When you are taken to jail, whether for a misdemeanor or felony crime, you are booked and processed. At this point, in most states, a bond amount can be set.

Bond or Bail

Bail is set based on the severity of crime and can be denied in some instances. Bail is a set amount of money that can be paid as collateral for your release, and can often be recouped if charges are dismissed. Bonds are a contract between yourself and a bondsman. Bonds can ensure that you are released for a percentage (usually 10%) of the cost of bail, contingent upon you appearing in court.


Within days of the first hearing, the court clerk will forward all information to the State’s Attorney Office. At which point, they will appoint a prosecutor to your case. Within a few weeks, a decision will be made on whether to prosecute and what charges will be pursued. This is one of the most crucial times in a formal criminal case, given that the prosecutor has yet to file formal charges. Lawyers will often reach out to the prosecutor at or before this time in order to discuss options for minimizing the amount of damage done to you, your family, and your future.


Within a month of your arrest, you will be arraigned. This is where you are given the option to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you have not obtained a lawyer already, the judge will appoint a public defender at this point, should you choose. It is incredibly important to meet with a criminal attorney before your arraignment in order to ensure that you are prepared for what comes next. After the arraignment, you will have a hearing with the judge to see if you are ready for trial. If you and your lawyer are not fully prepared, you can request a delay, which the judge can grant or deny. Most cases allow a window of 90 days for misdemeanors and 175 days for a felony in order for the prosecutor to prepare for your case.

This time is referred to as “discovery” time. This is when the details of the case are examined. Witnesses are interviewed, motions are filed, and any disputes are made. Some motions can carry after the trial starts, but most should be completed before the trail begins. At this time, you can request that the case be dismissed or pushed to trial immediately if you and your lawyer don’t need any delay time.


Once these pretrial motions are resolved and you are ready for trial, there may be several offers for a plea bargain. These will include options of reduced or no jail time, in exchange for you pleading guilty or no contest. If you decline all plea deals and there has been no dismissal of your case, you will go to trial. The judge and/or a jury of your peers will preside over the case. Based on the information given during the trial, the jury or judge will deliver a verdict of either guilty or not guilty.


If you are found guilty, you will then attend a formal sentencing hearing that will decide on the punishment. The sentence is decided with consideration of numerous factors, including severity and harmful intent. This sentence can be appealed but are very unlikely without the assistance of a very skilled and experienced attorney.

The cycle of a criminal case can almost never be predicted. While there is a definitive process, there are numerous options throughout that make the others unnecessary. Most misdemeanor cases can be resolved within 3 months, start to finish while felonies typically last 6 months to a year. If you are going to be charged or are currently awaiting criminal charges, the smart choice is to get an attorney and see what your options are. Having an attorney will help you be better prepared for all aspects of your case.