Welcome to part 2 of my three part series on criminal justice processes. Part 1 focused on juvenile offenders. The adult criminal system process is much more grueling to understand than the juvenile system because of offense classification. This article is part two of the three part series and will focus on how misdemeanor offenses proceed through the criminal justice system.
When an adult commits an offense, the offense may be categorized as a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor is an offense which carries a sentence of less than 12 months incarceration. Some examples of misdemeanors are public intoxication, disorderly conduct, prostitution, simple assault, trespassing, and vandalism. Individuals who are convicted of a misdemeanor may be sentenced to probation, community service, house arrest, or part-time incarceration with sentences served on weekends.
The process of a misdemeanor begins with the commission of a crime which is observed and reported by police. At this time, the police officer responding to the situation will begin an investigation and determine if the person should be arrested or not. Once the individual is arrested the prosecution may choose to either file formal charges or release the offender.
Once charges are filed, the prosecution will determine the severity of the offense. If the offense is simply a ticket, the offender will be diverted by the police, prosecutor, or court. If the diversion is successful, such as paying a fine, the offender no longer will remain in the system. If the diversion is unsuccessful, the offender will be returned to face prosecution. If the charges require trial, the offender will have an initial appearance. At this point, the court will make a determination to either drop the charges and release the offender, or continue to process the offender.
If the offender remains in the criminal justice system, the offender will be given a preliminary hearing and the prosecutor will proceed by information. Information is a document which outlines the offense and the charges the prosecutor is filing. Once this is completed, the offender will proceed to arraignment. At arraignment a charge may be dismissed. If the charges are not dismissed, the offender can enter a plea. Pleas are generally guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If the offender pleads guilty, there is no need for a trial and the offender is convicted and sentenced. If the offender pleads not guilty, the case proceeds to trial. During a trial, the judge will decide if the offender is guilty or will acquit the offender. Once the judge has determined the offender is guilty, the sentencing phase begins.
During sentencing, the judge takes many things into consideration. If the offender has a history of committing crimes, the judge may not be lenient. If the offender is a first time offender, the judge may impose a lesser sentence on the offender. The judge will either sentence the offender to probation or other form of nonresidential punishment if the offense is not severe or the offender is a first time offender. If the offense is more severe and the offender has an extensive criminal history, the judge will sentence the offender to incarceration at a local jail. After probation and incarceration times have been served, the offender will exit the system.