Okay, in an earlier post I was discussing the differences and similarities between types of law. I briefly outlined civil case procedure and was highlighting the basics of criminal cases. We left off at burden of proof, wherein a Plaintiff is responsible for proving a Defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt through the introduction of evidence into the criminal proceedings.
Now typically, when a criminal Defendant is indicted for a crime, the indictment is handed down (or, ‘issued’) by a grand jury. A grand jury consists of a group of citizens that is appointed for a specific span of time to meet and decide the merits of criminal cases. In short, it’s up to the grand jury to decide whether or not there might be enough evidence to make it worthwhile to go ahead with the prosecution of a defendant.
The grand jury hears a presentation from the Plaintiff’s attorney; remember, the Plaintiff is a government entity bringing a case against the accused. The Defendant has a presumption of innocence (and not much more) as their defense at this point. The grand jury then makes a decision as to whether there is enough evidence involved to bring an indictment. An indictment is basically an official or formal accusation that a person has committed a crime.
If the grand jury decides ‘no’, then that’s usually the end of the case. If they decide ‘yes’, then the Defendant is indicted and the prosecuting attorney (in Georgia, this would be a District Attorney) then takes the case. At this point, many different things can happen, depending on the case in question. ‘Messier’ cases will have things like motions to suppress (a request to keep certain evidence away from a trial jury) and introductions of prior crimes. Every case is different; so different, in fact, that there is not space to go into it at any length here. Most criminal cases in Georgia have very limited discovery (the obtaining of evidence from the opposing party) and depositions are a rarity in all but the most unusual circumstances.
There can only be one of three results to a criminal trial: Guilty, not guilty and a hung jury. Here in Georgia if a defendant is guilty then the Judge decides the sentence (the Defendant’s punishment) based on both the criminal code and their review of any special circumstances. Many of these cases go into appeals (an official questioning of the jury verdict and/or judge’s sentence) so that any perceived mistakes by the Court can be argued.
A hung jury occurs when the trial jury could not unanimously decide, despite repeated requests from the judge, the outcome of the case that is being tried. A hung jury means that most of the time the prosecutor will begin the trial process all over from the beginning.
If the defendant is found not guilty, that typically is the end of things.
I hope I’ve helped you to understand civil and criminal procedure a little better through these posts. Get in touch with my Atlanta law office if there is anything law-related you have a question about and I’ll do my best to accommodate you!