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Steps to a Criminal Case

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, it can be a stressful and confusing time. At Sonnenklar Law we want you to understand the steps of a criminal case so you can navigate the legal process and make better informed decisions about your case. Call us for a free case review!

Police interaction.

This is the most unpleasant portion. The police believe rightly or wrongly a crime has been committed, make an arrest, and collect evidence.

Police Cars
First Appearance.

All persons arrested must see a Judge within 24 hours. The only purpose of this hearing is to set conditions for the Defendant's release. The release comes in two potential forms, release to pre-trial services. Here Defendants check in by phone once per week, and depending on the nature of the case, may be subject to random urine screenings. This could include a no-alcohol provision. This is almost exclusively for first-time, low-level offenders.

Alternatively, the court can impose a bond amount. Defendants have two choices, pay the entire amount in full, or use a bondsman. The bondsman usually charges 10% of the total bond.

The main difference to understand between these two options is: If the defendant pays the full amount, that money is returned in full minus any court costs. If the Defendant uses a bondsman, the 10% is a fee and no money is returned at the end of the case. The advantage is needing only 10% so less money upfront.


This is the first Court appearance with the Judge and State Attorney who will be handling the Defendant’s case. The purpose of an arraignment is for the State to present the formal charges against you. The charges may be the same, more, or less severe. The State could also choose to abandon the case and drop the charges (this is rare).

The second purpose of an arraignment is to determine if the Defendant has a lawyer. If the defendant hired one in advance, the lawyer will already have submitted all of the required paperwork. This includes a plea of not guilty and a demand for evidence. 

Finally, the Judge will set the case for a “Docket Sounding” and the State will have 15 days to provide the defendant or Defendant’s attorney with all of the evidence collected by the police. Defendant does not need to appear if they have hired an attorney.

In court
Docket Sounding.

This is the default setting for all criminal cases. At the docket sounding, the Judge will want to know one of three things, is the defendant ready for trial? Does the Defendant wish to plead guilty (usually with an agreement from the State)? Or, does the Defendant and his attorney need more time to investigate the case and potential defenses?

All cases will be re-scheduled based on each Defendant’s response. The Defendant does not need to appear but must sign a “waiver of appearance” provided by the attorney prior to each Court proceeding.

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