Being arrested and accused of a criminal offense can be a terrifying experience, particularly if it is your first time. If you are in this position, you are likely feeling worried and confused. Understandably, you are probably worrying about the potential penalties you face if convicted. However, you may also be intimidated by the criminal justice system in general. Navigating the criminal justice system, even for people who are regularly involved in the system, can be challenging. For someone who has no experience with the system, it can be a nightmare. With this in mind, we have put together a brief guide to the Nebraska criminal justice system to help you understand how it works. Hopefully, gaining some basic knowledge about the system and having some idea what to expect during your involvement therein will alleviate some of your anxiety. Please be sure to also read Part II in this series, which discusses the decision to proceed to trial and what happens at a trial. If you have additional questions about the criminal justice system in general, or questions about your case specifically, please feel free to contact the experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney at Petersen Criminal Law Defense.
Pre-Arrest – The Investigation Stage
- There are two ways by which you can end up getting arrested:
- As a result of a law enforcement officer witnessing a crime or being called to the scene of a crime, such as a DUI or a domestic dispute.
- As a result of an investigation that culminates in a judge signing a warrant for your arrest.
- Numerous different law enforcement agencies can investigate crimes
- At the state level: city police, county sheriffs, and state police.
- At the federal level: there are numerous “alphabet” agencies, such as the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations), DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
- If you have reason to believe you are being investigated by any law enforcement agency, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
- Never speak to the police without an attorney present
- Unless you are unquestionably a victim, you will be considered a possible suspect, regardless of what the police tell you.
- Contrary to what many people believe, the police do not have to read you your rights when they question you during an investigation unless you are in custody.
The Arrest Stage – Understanding Bond
- When you are arrested, there are a few important things to remember:
- Do not answer questions beyond providing basic identifying information
- The police are not trying to help you, despite what they may tell you
- A police officer does not have the authority to make deals with you. Only the prosecuting attorney can make a deal. As such, do not agree to provide information to the police in exchange for a lighter sentence. If this is a legitimate offer from the State, your criminal defense attorney can negotiate the terms of the deal for you at a later time.
- When you are arrested, with very few exceptions, you will have a bond that, if paid, will allow you to be released from custody while your case is pending.
- Bond may be decided when an arrest warrant is issued, OR
- Bond may be decided shortly after you are arrested
- The primary purpose of a bond is to ensure your return for future court dates.
- Exceptions to the right to bond may include:
- If you are charged with capital murder or treason
- If you have violated probation or the terms of your original release
- There are different types of bonds. The two most commonly ordered by a court are:
- Cash bond: This must be paid in full to secure the defendant’s release. Cash bonds tend to be lower and used for less serious offenses.
- Surety bond: This type uses a bail bondsman to whom you (or a loved one) will pay a percentage of the bond amount –typically 10-20 percent—that is non-refundable. That is the bondsman’s fee. The bondsman then puts up the balance of the bond with the court and you are released. If you fail to appear for court the bondsman will send a bounty hunter to find you and bring you back.
- If you violate the terms of your release, you will be re-arrested and returned to custody. If a new bond is set, you will have to pay the new bond in order to be released again.
Pre-Trial Stage of Prosecution
- Your first appearance in court will be for an initial hearing, also referred to as an arraignment, and will happen within a couple of days if you are in custody or within a couple of weeks (usually) if you are out of custody.
- If you are in custody, bond may be discussed
- The charges against you are read unless you waive the reading
- You will enter a plea to those charges, or one will be entered for you
- The judge will ask you about an attorney if you have yet to hire one
- For minor crimes, the prosecuting attorney may even offer you a plea agreement at your initial hearing.
- If you remain in custody and once you hire a criminal defense attorney, your attorney may be able to request a hearing to review your bond amount and get it lowered.
- The State, through the prosecuting attorney, has the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
- This means the State must prove each and every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
- You are not required to put on any defense at all.
- You may put on a defense if you choose, after consulting with your attorney.
- The State has a legal obligation to provide your attorney with copies of all evidence and a list of all witnesses the State plans to introduce at trial.
- You have a right to question those witnesses through the use of a discovery tool known as a deposition. A deposition is where your attorney asks a witness questions while the witness is under oath in an effort to determine what the witness will testify to at trial.
- You also have a right to run your own tests in evidence
- You may also retain your own expert witnesses
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.