A criminal defendant is someone the state has indicted or charged with a crime but who has not been convicted or sentenced. The criminal justice process is a series of events that resolves the charges against the defendant. If you are a criminal defendant, you enjoy the benefit of numerous constitutional rights.
The following is a general outline of Ohio criminal procedure. This system has some flexibility, as not all cases proceed similarly.
- Grand jury proceedings (for felonies)
- Indictment (for felonies).
- Criminal booking at the police station.
- The state files formal charges against you.
- Arraignment: You plead guilty or not guilty, and the court sets the amount of bail. If you plead guilty, there is no trial.
- The court-enforced pretrial discovery process. The prosecution and the defense gather evidence from each other.
- Plea bargaining (in some cases). You and the prosecutor might agree to plead guilty to a lesser offense to reduce their sentence and avoid a trial.
- Preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is like a mini-trial without a jury. Its function is to decide whether the prosecution’s evidence is strong enough to justify a trial.
- The pretrial hearing: The court formally enters any plea agreement. If a trial is imminent, the prosecution and the defense might file motions, such as a motion to suppress evidence.
- Trial: At the trial, both sides present their cases to the court, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and submit evidence to the court. You can demand a jury trial or allow the judge to decide the case.
- Appeal: You may appeal a conviction if you have appropriate grounds. Prosecutors rarely appeal acquittals.
Even if you go to prison, you can seek a new trial from behind bars if new evidence emerges.
The Rights of Criminal Defendants
The US criminal justice system offers criminal defendants many more rights than defendants in most other countries. Since most of these rights are granted by the US Constitution, they prevail over contrary state law. In some cases, the state constitution gives you additional rights. Following is a list of some of these rights:
- The right to remain silent.
- The right to be free from illegal search and seizure.
- The right to be free from compelled self-incrimination.
- The right to a speedy trial.
- The right to a public trial.
- The right to confront hostile witnesses.
- The right to an attorney.
- The right to the effective assistance of your attorney.
- The right not to be tried twice for the same offense (also known as the right against double jeopardy). There is a limited exception involving state and federal prosecutions.
- The right to an acquittal unless you plead guilty or the court finds you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The preceding list includes only some of the rights available to you. A skilled criminal defense lawyer will know all of them by heart.
Common Defenses Against Criminal Charges
The right to the effective assistance of counsel includes the right to pursue any reasonable defense that the facts of your case may warrant.
- Alibi: If the commission of the crime required your physical presence, an alibi constitutes proof that you were not at the crime scene when it happened.
- Entrapment: You were not inclined to commit the crime, but a law enforcement agent convinced you to commit it so they could arrest you for it.
- The police seized the evidence against you without a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement.
- Coerced confession: The police beat you into a confession, for example.
- The statute of limitations expired before the defendant was charged: The prosecutor has a certain number of years to charge someone with a crime. If the deadline passes, there can be no prosecution.
- Mistaken Identity: Someone else committed the crime, not you.
- The police failed to “read you your rights” (Miranda warnings). The police cannot use anything you say against you until they read you your rights. If this leaves the prosecutor without a viable case, you walk free.
- Wrongful arrest: You were arrested without probable cause, and the evidence against you arose from that unlawful arrest.
- False accusation: False accusations are widespread in domestic violence cases and during child custody proceedings.
- Accident: “I didn’t mean to do it” may or may not result in acquittal if you prove it. Even if it doesn’t, it could still get you a lighter sentence or a lesser charge.
- Self-defense. Limits exist to this defense, however.
- Defense of others. Similar to self-defense.
- Consent of the “victim” is a complete defense to many actions that would otherwise constitute crimes. It is not a defense to murder, however.
- Necessity: You committed the crime by choosing the “lesser of two evils” under (unusual) circumstances.
- Insanity: If this defense succeeds, you will go to a mental institution instead of prison.
- Duress: Someone coerced you into committing the crime. Duress is no defense against murder, however.
- Mistake of fact: You took something that belonged to someone else, believing it was yours. This defense might work against a theft charge.
- Infancy: You were a minor (under 18) when the crime occurred. In Ohio, anyone 14 or above can still face trial as an adult for a serious enough offense. Children under 14, however, will face juvenile court.
Hundreds more possible defenses exist, depending on the facts of your case.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer as Soon as You Can
An Ohio criminal charge is a serious matter, especially if the state charges you with a felony. Without a skilled criminal defense lawyer to help, you are flirting with disaster. Contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible, and be careful whom you select.