The criminal process in Oklahoma can be overwhelming for people going through the system. We put together an overview of the main steps that you can expect from the arrest through the appeal.
Investigation Before the Charge or Arrest
If a citizen reports a crime, law enforcement will have to investigate to determine what happened. If they gather a substantial amount of evidence to identify a suspect and determine what alleged crimes will be filed, they will submit a Probable Cause Affidavit to seek formal charges and make an arrest.
The prosecutor, typically the District Attorney, can charge you with the crime that fits the evidence the police agency has provided. They can add or decline charges or send the case back to the agency for more investigation.
If you were involved in a crime and suspect that there may be an investigation happening, you can use this time to reach out to a criminal defense lawyer to advise you of the process and your options. An attorney can help you avoid a charge or mitigate the investigation.
Your Rights While Being Arrested
An arrest may be avoided if counsel is involved during the investigation phase. But, usually, an arrest is made on the spot, and one of the more common situations would be arrested for a DUI.
If you are under arrest, you need to know your rights. Most notably, you have the right to remain silent. A law enforcement officer will remind you of your rights while being arrested. It is imperative to listen to this advice. You do not need to discuss your activity with any law enforcement agent or anyone other than your lawyer.
It is understandable that your first instinct would be to defend yourself or explain your actions. Still, any information you give up will build a case against you. If you are being pressed to discuss anything or give a statement, you can respond with, “I would like to talk to my lawyer.”
The Initial Appearance, Bonds, and Pre-Trial Release
Once arrested, you have the right to bond or a hearing in front of a judge. Law enforcement must make sure that you are seen by a judge quickly to have your detention evaluated.
At this point, there is a difference between federal court and municipal or state court. If a bond has not been negotiated in Oklahoma state or municipal court, this initial appearance is when it will be set. You may see a judge virtually by video, and they will let you know the charges and set the amount for the bond. There is also a possibility the judge may offer you a release on the condition you will return on your court date.
The federal system does not have the same bond and release system, but people can be released while their case is pending. In federal court, a judge will determine if you will be held or allowed pre-trial release.
Preliminary Hearing Conference (PHC) for Felony Charges
The following steps depend on if you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The Preliminary Hearing Conference is for someone accused of a felony. It’s important to note that some counties in Oklahoma do not hold Preliminary Hearing Conferences. Still, most have some conferences at this stage.
At a PHC, both parties meet to determine a negotiated plea. A few outcomes can happen here, and one possibility is that your case could be dismissed. If all parties agree on a negotiated plea, then the next step is to go to trial. If a negotiated plea is not reached, then a Preliminary Hearing will be scheduled.
Preliminary Hearing for Felony Charges
The preliminary hearing is a court hearing with witnesses testifying. The judge of a preliminary hearing will decide if there is evidence to order a trial. It is on the prosecutor, typically the State of Oklahoma, to present evidence of probable cause that the crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crime.
The standard for probable cause is low, and the prosecutor does not have to present all of the information. The defendant is allowed to cross-examine witnesses or present evidence in their defense.
If the prosecutor presents enough evidence to show probable cause, the judge will move to trial. If the judge decides that there is no probable cause, the judge can reduce the charges to misdemeanors or dismiss charges.
While you can waive a preliminary hearing, your criminal defense attorney may recommend holding the preliminary hearing, especially if a trial is likely. A preliminary hearing allows the defense team to see some of the evidence, get information for additional investigation, and get witness testimony on the record.
The Arraignment and Motions Hearings
An arraignment applies to both the misdemeanor and felony legal processes. For a misdemeanor, the initial appearance may also be the arraignment, but for a felony charge, the arraignment comes after the preliminary hearing.
An arraignment is when the defendant appears before the judge and is formally told the criminal charges, the penalties if convicted, and the constitutional rights. The arraignment is the first time a defendant can enter the plea of Not Guilty.
During this time in a criminal case, either party (prosecution or defense) can file legal motions. Typical motions would be a motion to dismiss the case, a motion to suppress evidence, a motion for discovery. At a motions hearing, the judge will rule on the motions that have been filed, if applicable.
Criminal Trial in Oklahoma
Criminal trials in Oklahoma vary slightly depending on a misdemeanor and a felony charge. A misdemeanor trial may have a jury of six members, while a felony trial has 12 members.
A criminal trial begins with the prosecution presenting evidence, calling witnesses, and producing documents. The defense may cross-examine any witnesses after their testimony. Once the prosecution has ended their presentation, the defendant gets a turn to present evidence. It is uncommon for a defense to produce additional evidence at this time.
Regardless if there is additional evidence, the defense will present its case and ask the judge to dismiss all charges (or reduce charges). Both parties are allowed to present a closing argument, but the prosecution gets the final remarks.
If the jury returns a verdict of not guilty, the case is over, and the defendant is free. If the defendant is found guilty, they will be sentenced. In most cases, especially for misdemeanor trials, a jury determines the verdict and the sentencing during the same deliberation. For a felony, the sentencing may be held at a different hearing.
While a jury recommends a sentence, the final verdict and sentence is, ultimately, decided by the judge. The judge can’t be harsher than the jury, but the judge can suspend or limit the sentence. If there is more than one count, the judge also decides how or when the defendant will serve. For example, if the defendant is sentenced to 5 and 10 years for different felony counts, the judge can order the defendant to serve at the same time (10 years total) or one after another (15 years total).
After the Trial and Filing an Appeal
If convicted in Oklahoma, you have the right to appeal through the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. The appeals process has very specific requirements and time periods, so you will want to have legal representation to guide you through this process.
Expungement and Clearing Your Record
After an arrest and trial, you will have a public criminal record in Oklahoma. But once you’ve served your time, you might want to consider getting your record cleared- this is called expungement. Expungement removes arrest records and court records from public view.
Having a cleared record can make getting a job or housing a lot easier. You can speak to an expungement lawyer about getting your criminal record cleared.
The Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Group in Oklahoma City
If you are arrested in Oklahoma, you’re going to need an experienced and passionate Oklahoma criminal defense lawyer like The Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Group to guide you through this process.