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Criminal Defense Process

The Criminal Defense Process: A Guide for the Accused

Facing criminal charges can be an incredibly stressful and frightening experience. As someone accused of a crime, you may feel anxious, overwhelmed, and unsure of what to expect going forward. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the criminal defense process, to help you understand what to anticipate at each stage, and how an attorney can protect your rights and advocate for you throughout.

Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney

One of the most important things you can do after getting arrested is hire a criminal defense attorney. An experienced lawyer understands how the criminal justice system works and can advocate for your rights. A knowledgeable attorney will guide you through the process, examine the evidence, leverage their relationships with prosecutors and judges, and work toward the best possible resolution to your case.

How a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

An attorney can provide a wide range of assistance after you have been accused of a crime, such as:

  • Advising you on whether to make statements to the police and how to interact with investigators
  • Negotiating with the prosecutor regarding potential plea deals or dismissal of charges
  • Filing motions to suppress illegally obtained evidence
  • Investigating the circumstances of your case and interviewing witnesses
  • Presenting evidence and cross-examining witnesses during trial
  • Guiding you through the sentencing process if convicted

In addition, having legal counsel immediately invoked can sometimes result in charges being dropped or reduced before your case escalates further. An attorney begins building your defense from day one to work toward the best possible outcome under the circumstances.

How to Find the Right Lawyer

It’s important to retain a criminal lawyer who meets your specific needs. Factors to consider include:

  • Experience handling your types of charges
  • Knowledge of local courts, judges, and prosecutors
  • Communication style and responsiveness
  • Case load and availability
  • Fees and billing practices

Search online directories such as Lawyers.com and Avvo to find attorneys, read reviews, and compare qualifications. Ask family, friends, or other lawyers for referrals. Prepare questions and interview a few lawyers before deciding who to retain. Be sure to understand what you can expect regarding their availability, communication practices, defense strategies, and fees.

The Arraignment

Your arraignment will typically happen within 48 hours of arrest. This hearing brings you before a judge to be formally notified of the charges against you. The judge will also consider bail and may enter a plea on your behalf. An attorney can argue for your release or negotiated bail amount at this stage. If you cannot afford a lawyer for the arraignment, request a public defender to represent you.

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
Just had my Divorce case settled 2 months ago after having a horrible experience with another firm. I couldn’t be happier with Claire Banks and Elizabeth Garvey with their outstanding professionalism in doing so with Spodek Law Group. Any time I needed questions answered they were always prompt in doing so with all my uncertainties after 30 yrs of marriage.I feel from the bottom of my heart you will NOT be disappointed with either one. Thanks a million.
Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
Loveth Okpedo
Loveth Okpedo
Very professional, very transparent, over all a great experience
Bee L
Bee L
Amazing experience with Spodek! Very professional lawyers who take your case seriously. They treated me with respect, were always available, and answered any and all questions. They were able to help me very successfully and removed a huge stress. Highly recommend.
divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.

What to Expect at an Arraignment

During your arraignment hearing, you can generally expect:

  • To be formally notified of all charges against you
  • For bail terms and amount to be set and reviewed
  • To enter a plea – usually “not guilty” at this stage
  • For next court dates to be determined
  • To be allowed to speak to request bail changes or a new court date if needed

Arraignments are usually brief, straightforward hearings. Having an attorney ensures your rights are protected and gives you the best chance at being released until the trial. Be sure to discuss strategy with your lawyer beforehand regarding entering a plea and requesting bail.

Grand Juries

A grand jury determines whether there is enough evidence for felony charges to go to trial. The prosecutor presents witnesses and evidence, but your lawyer cannot be present or cross-examine. If the grand jury finds probable cause, they will return an indictment authorizing formal charges against you. Your attorney can sometimes convince the prosecutor to dismiss charges before going to a grand jury hearing.

For misdemeanors, cases proceed directly to trial without preliminary hearings or grand juries. Hiring counsel early on helps fully leverage pretrial procedures in your favor, both for misdemeanors and felonies.

Plea Bargaining

Many criminal cases end through plea bargaining rather than going to trial. Your lawyer will negotiate with the prosecutor to try to reduce charges to lesser offenses or secure a lighter sentence recommendation. Cases that look strong for the prosecution often lead to better deals, to minimize harsher consequences if convicted at trial.

Common Types of Plea Deals

There are a few general types of plea bargains prosecutors commonly offer, such as:

  • Charge reduction – Pleading guilty to a lesser charge, such as disorderly conduct rather than assault
  • Sentence recommendation – Agreeing to a specific prison term or fine amount
  • Dropped charges – Dismissing some charges in exchange for a guilty plea on others

Your attorney will thoroughly examine the evidence and negotiate the best possible deal under the circumstances. However, the final decision of whether to accept a plea bargain is yours after considering the risks and benefits.

The Plea Hearing

If you accept a plea deal, a formal plea hearing will be held in court. The judge will ask you questions about the agreement to ensure it was entered knowingly and voluntarily. This creates a record demonstrating you understand your rights and the consequences of the plea. When satisfied, the judge accepts the guilty plea and schedules a sentencing date.

Criminal Trials

If no pretrial resolution is reached through dismissal, plea bargaining, or diversion programs, your case will go to trial. The trial allows both sides to present evidence and make arguments before a judge or jury, who will decide your guilt or innocence.

Stages of a Criminal Trial

A criminal trial generally proceeds through the following key stages:

  1. Jury selection – Attorneys question and select jurors who will decide the case.
  2. Opening statements – Lawyers present an overview of the expected evidence and their side’s position.
  3. Prosecution’s case – Prosecutor presents evidence and calls witnesses to try to establish guilt.
  4. Defense case – Your attorney cross-examines witnesses and presents evidence favorable to you.
  5. Closing arguments – Attorneys summarize the key evidence and argue why you should be found guilty or not guilty.
  6. Jury instructions – The judge explains relevant laws and the standards for a conviction to the jury.
  7. Jury deliberation – The jury discusses the case in private and votes on the verdict.
  8. Verdict – The jury acquits or convicts you after deliberation.
  9. Sentencing – If convicted, the judge determines and imposes a sentence.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer will advocate for you at every stage of trial. They will seek to suppress damaging evidence, present exculpatory evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and ultimately create reasonable doubt resulting in an acquittal.

Your Rights at Trial

The Constitution guarantees certain rights during a criminal trial, including:

  • The right to have the charges presented to an impartial jury
  • The right to cross-examine witnesses testifying against you
  • The right to call witnesses to testify on your behalf
  • The right to testify or remain silent – you cannot be compelled to take the stand
  • The right to have an attorney present at all critical stages
  • The presumption of innocence unless the prosecution proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt

An experienced criminal defense lawyer will constantly ensure these rights are protected throughout the trial process.


If convicted, the court will impose a sentence stated in the statute for the crime. Possible sentences include fines, probation, restitution, incarceration, or the death penalty where applicable. Your attorney will advocate for the minimum punishment under the law.

How Sentencing Works

During sentencing, the judge considers:

  • Statutory sentencing guidelines for the crime
  • The prosecutor’s sentence recommendation
  • Mitigating circumstances your lawyer raises, such as mental health issues or showing remorse
  • Your criminal history and any mandatory minimums
  • Victim impact statements describing the harm suffered

For serious or complex cases, a separate sentencing hearing may be scheduled where both sides can call witnesses and present evidence to argue for harsher or more lenient sentences.

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