This is the first time a suspect appears in court. An initial appearance for a person in custody must be held within 24 hours of arrest. A summons with the date and time of the initial appearance is sent to individuals not in custody.
A felony charge is initiated by a complaint or an indictment. A prosecutor files a direct complaint in court, citing which crimes were allegedly committed. An indictment is issued by a grand jury, which determines from evidence presented by a prosecutor that a crime was committed and the suspect should stand trial on the allegations. Both a direct complaint and indictment define the alleged crimes and cite the date of offense and which laws were violated.
A preliminary hearing is required when a felony case is initiated by a direct complaint. The prosecutor presents evidence and witnesses to try to establish probable cause that the crime was committed and the defendant should stand trial. Generally, a preliminary hearing is held in Justice Court, but it may be held in Superior Court. The judge can dismiss the case for insufficient evidence or order a trial.
Another method for initiating charges against a defendant is a grand jury indictment. The grand jury, comprising 16 jurors, determines whether probable cause exists based on evidence presented by the prosecutor. Grand juror proceedings are secret and their actions become public only through the indictment, if one is handed up.
This brief Superior Court hearing is the defendant's opportunity to enter a plea to the charges. If the defendant enters a "not guilty" plea, a court date will be set. If the defendant enters a "guilty" plea, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled.
In a criminal trial, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. Superior Court juries have either eight or twelve jurors depending on the nature of the charges. A verdict must be unanimous or a mistrial can be declared and the case could be retried.
A defendant who is found guilty faces a range of possible sentences for the crime. When a verdict is returned, the judge sets a sentencing date within about 30 days. At a sentencing hearing, both the defense and the prosecution can present evidence to help the judge determine an appropriate sentence. Victims have the right to address the court on what they believe would be a proper sentence.
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