Criminal Process

Arrest

The police arrest you.  For a moment, set aside whether or not the arrest was justified.  You are either taken into custody or handed a summons.  Either way, you will be given a written notice that you must appear in court on a certain date and time to answer the complaint against you.  You are now considered a “Defendant” in the system. 

District Court Arraignment

When you answer your complaint on the given date and time, you will be arraigned by the local district court (“the court” usually refers to the clerk and judge).  An arraignment is a formal way that the court advises you of the charges against you, whether you plan to hire an attorney (if you haven’t done so already) and what bail should be set to ensure the safety of the community and to secure your appearance at future court hearings.  Typically, Defendants enter a plea of “not guilty” at arraignment.  If charged with a felony, the district court has no jurisdiction to take any plea and will usually enter a “not guilty” plea on your behalf. 

Probable Cause Hearing

When you are charged with a felony the district court must hold a probable cause hearing (sometimes referred to as a PC hearing).  At the PC hearing, the court determines if there is sufficient probable cause to support the felony charge and that the police arrested the right defendant.  If PC is “found” the case is bound-over to superior court. 

Grand Jury

The Grand Jury typically sits in each county once per month.  The prosecutor, usually an assistant county attorney, presents a case to the Grand Jury which can result in an indictment against the Defendant. 

Superior Court Arraignment

Whether your felony case is “bound-over” by arrest and arraignment in the district court or an “indictment” from the Grand Jury, the county superior court will hold their own arraignment.  Defendants usually enter a “not guilty” plea and the parties will once again address status of counsel and bail.

Discovery Phase

You or your attorney will request and receive discovery.  Discovery is a term that encompasses all of the evidence that the prosecutor and police will use against you at your trial.  A seasoned attorney will be able to judge the strength of the case against you, identify your defenses, if any, and whether any motions to suppress evidence obtained illegally by the police are likely to succeed.  Be wary of the lawyer that guarantees that he or she can have your case thrown out.  Similarly, the defendant may conduct his or her own investigation.  In some cases, the defendant will have to reveal certain information before trial. 

Negotiations

Most criminal cases never lead to trial.  Once your attorney has reviewed discovery, he or she may work out a reasonable negotiated disposition with the prosecutor.  What is reasonable is subject to many factors including prior experience with the particular court, prosecutor, the defendant’s criminal record and the particular evidence in each case.  Not all negotiated dispositions necessarily lead to a plea of guilty to the original charge. 

Trial

Trials conducted in district court for violations and misdemeanors are heard by a judge only, who hears the evidence and applies the law.  These are called Bench Trials.  Trials in superior court are usually conducted with a jury who hears the evidence.  The judge oversees the trial, ensures that proper procedures are followed, makes rulings on the admissibility of certain evidence and so forth.  Should you be found guilty, the judge will sentence you.   

Sentencing

The court sentences individuals by looking to the particular law that was violated.  Judges are charged with sentencing the defendant using a three-pronged analysis.  Will the sentence punish, rehabiliate and deter future crimes? 

Appeal

If convicted in district court, the defendant may appeal for a new trial in superior court if the defendant was sentenced to jail time.  Certain issues of law may be appealed directly to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. 

If convicted in superior court, the defendant may appeal only issues of law to the supreme court. 

Annulment

You may petition the court to annul the record of your arrest and conviction.  There are various time periods and other conditions that must be met before you become eligible for annulment.