FAQ – Steps in the Process of a Criminal Case
In the situation of individuals seeking “pre-charge counsel” who believe they may be under investigation by police, most often the lawyer and the “target” (of police) work together to identify known relevant facts, identify legal issues, formulate the best defense strategies, and then implement them. The goal is, first, to reduce the chances of ever being charged with a crime, and second, if the government does make a criminal charge, to do everything possible to avoid helping them do so.
If a criminal charge has been claimed against a person, it is important to discuss with an experienced criminal defense lawyer like Thomas Gallagher, what the possible consequences could be, the goal for outcome, and to determine strategies to avoid or reduce those consequences, and achieve that outcome.
Fact-gathering, investigation, and discovery
In most criminal cases, it is important to gather facts, investigate, and pursue legal “discovery” procedures to get as many potentially relevant facts as possible. This “search for the truth” is helpful, and sometimes turns up conclusive evidence of innocence. Unfortunately, police often take short-cuts and fail to fully, properly investigate the claims of people who allege a crime or identity.
Even with over 29 years of criminal defense legal experience and stored knowledge, Gallagher believes in thorough legal research as an important tool in defending liberty and finding justice. Liberty and Justice do not just happen magically. Hard work and patience are normally required to find them. Legal research – statutes, constitutional law, equity – play an essential role in advocating on behalf of the accused person.
Often, Gallagher asks the court for help, enforcing the laws against the police or the prosecuting attorney. This kind of request of the court or judge is called a “motion.” There are many kinds of motions for relief in criminal cases. A few of the more common types are motions to compel discovery (to force the government to disclose hidden evidence), motions to suppress evidence obtained as the result of police violations of law, and motions relating to the trial. Sometimes Gallagher is able to get criminal cases dismissed, or key evidence thrown out, at this stage, before the trial.
Though sometimes we have waived a jury (this is the accused person’s right), normally criminal trials are before a jury. Jury selection marks the beginning of a trial. This is Gallagher’s first chance to speak to the jury about the case. After jury selection, Gallagher and the prosecutor make Opening Statements. The prosecutor then presents the police officers or whatever evidence they can get in, subject to cross-examination by Gallagher. After the prosecution rests its case, the Defense can present evidence but is not required to do so. Sometimes the prosecution case appears so weak and unconvincing that Gallagher and the accused decide not to present any further evidence. If there are Defense witnesses and other evidence presented, often these may serve to “impeach” the prosecution witness testimony, or to tell what really happened. After the presentation of evidence is complete, the Judge reads jury instructions of the law to the jury. The jury then deliberates. If the jury reaches a verdict, the court reconvenes to hear it. If the verdict is unanimous, the case is over – subject to any potential appeals to a higher court for errors in the case. If there is no verdict, because the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, it is a “hung jury” and the accused and the witnesses could be put through the whole process again.
If an accused is convicted by jury verdict or pleads guilty, the Court will hold a sentencing hearing. Although there have been long, complex sentencing trials or hearings, usually they are relatively brief. In felony cases, the Federal or Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines will provide guidance to the Judge about the sentence. Some cases involve potential lengthy prison terms. Other cases do not carry a likely jail sentence, but have the potential to ruin a person’s good name and reputation, giving them a “criminal record,” which can trigger many so-called “Collateral Consequences.”
If the accused is convicted, normally there is the right to appeal any legal errors or rights violations to a higher, appellate court. If the case prosecuted in Minnesota State Court, then normally any appeal would be made to a Minnesota appellate court, such as the Minnesota Court of Appeals. A decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals could be appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the highest Minnesota State appellate court. If the case was prosecuted in a Federal District Court in Minnesota, it typically could be appealed to the United States 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and potentially then to the United States Supreme Court.