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Don't Fret: Learn about the Criminal Process in Indiana

After being charged with a crime, you might ask, "What do I do now?" Being charged with a crime can be emotionally draining. There is for some people a surge of conflicting emotions. These emotions seem to be generated by lack of knowledge about the criminal justice system. Some relief can come by way of learning about the process and getting prepared for what will come. The first thing to remember is that from the outset, the law presumes that the defendant is innocent.

The following is a summary of the criminal process in Indiana. It briefly describes the process in general terms. It is meant to be informational in nature and does not replace the advice of an attorney. The State begins a criminal case by filing a criminal information in the court against the defendant. The criminal information is a document which states the official charge or crime. Along with this criminal information is filed an affidavit for probable cause. The affidavit for probable cause is generally filled out and signed by the arresting officer. In the affidavit for probable cause, the arresting officer states among other things: the facts giving reason to believe that the defendant has committed a crime and how the officer obtained or knows that information. The affidavit for probable cause is essentially the State's stated reasoning for detaining or arresting a person.

After either the arrest or when the court reviews the affidavit for probable cause, the court will set a bond amount (this is initially done outside the presence of the defendant). Once the bond is paid in the clerk's office, the defendant is released from jail under pretrial release conditions (these conditions vary in each case, and it is very important to comply with them).

There are roughly four (4) types of hearings in a criminal case, although there can be other types of hearings (i.e. more than the four explained below). Some of the specific types of hearings can happen more than once in a given case and some might not happen at all. The first hearing is called an initial hearing (this occurs in every case unless defendant waives the hearing) where the court advises the defendant of the criminal charges he is facing, reviews constitutional rights, and enters a plea of not-guilty for the defendant. The second type of hearing is a pretrial conference (it usually occurs multiple times in a case) where the court obtains an update on the case and where the prosecutor and defense attorney attempt to negotiate the case.

The third type of hearing is an evidentiary hearing where the parties present evidence and argument in support of legal issues (this hearing does not occur in every case). The fourth type of hearing is a trial or a change of plea hearing. At a trial, the State must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendant. If the defendant prefers to plead guilty, then he can elect to do so at a change of plea hearing. If he decides to plead guilty, there will be no trial. Sometimes, the case is dismissed either by the State or by the court. This can occur for many different reasons. If the case is dismissed, then obviously there is no trial or change of plea hearing.

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