The Criminal Law Process and You, Part 3

John E. Lawes

John E. Lawes, Esq

Last week, I addressed what happens during the preliminary stages of court proceedings. If you missed it, all articles appearing in this column can be found below.

If the crime in question is a felony and no plea has been entered during the preliminary process, then the case will proceed to trial. This can be the most important time for defendants because it is when they are able to formulate a defense. Under our justice system, those accused of a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty. This presumption is only overcome when the state (or federal government for federal crimes) proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That standard is the highest standard of proof in the entire legal system. In civil court, claimants must often prove their case by preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), clear and convincing evidence, or substantial evidence. The criminal standard of proof is much higher than any of these civil standards.

Defendants are also provided constitutional protections, such as the right against self-incrimination and the right to confront witnesses against them. Defense counsel is also supposed to have access to all evidence that the state possesses, especially if that evidence would help to prove the defendant’s innocence. Eventually the case will go to trial, but before that, the defendant will have an opportunity to ask the court to exclude evidence based on either constitutional protections or the rules of evidence. Under Alabama law, it is not possible for the defendant to make a pretrial motion to dismiss a criminal case. Even if the evidence to be presented is minimal, the defendant may not ask the court to dismiss the case until the state has presented its case. Because of this, it is very important to have proper legal representation in the period leading up to trial. To do otherwise, may put you in jeopardy of losing your most valuable asset — your freedom.

Next week’s article will address what happens during the post-trial process.

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