Criminal Trial Procedure

Municipalities, states and the federal government all have their own set of procedures for criminal trials. The federal government sets the minimum standard for protection offered to criminal defendants; states and municipalities may offer more protection to those accused of criminal offenses, but may not offer less protection than that provided in the U.S. Constitution. Be sure to check with a qualified criminal defense attorney in your state to learn about criminal proceedings in your state or municipality. Below are the typical steps of a criminal proceeding in the United States (but may not be accurate for every single circumstance).

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Criminal proceedings begin with an arrest (see What Happens when You are Arrested?). While you will be told why you are being held in police custody, you will not hear your formal charges until you are arraigned. When you are arrested, you will be required to stay in jail until the date of your trial or until you post bail (see How to Post Bail).


At an arraignment, the defendant is formally charged with a crime. The judge will:

  • read the defendant his or her criminal charges,