How Does The Court Process Work?
Arrest: An arrest can be made by a police department at the scene of an incident or after the fact when an arrest warrant is issued. This person is the “Defendant” in the pending matter.
Depending on the type of charge and the Defendant’s criminal background, the Defendant can either be released on bail (personal recognizance or cash/bond) after the arrest. This is determined by a bail commissioner. The Defendant can also be held pending arraignment in the local district court.
Arraignment: If the Defendant has been released on bail for a misdemeanor charge, a court date will be issued for the Defendant to appear in the district court for arraignment. This is when the Defendant will enter a guilty or not guilty plea. If the Defendant enters a guilty plea, the penalty for the offense will be imposed at that time. If a not guilty plea is entered, a trial date is assigned for the case.
If the Defendant is not released on bail at the time of his or her arrest, the Defendant would then be transported to the District Court for arraignment. A judge determines whether the Defendant is eligible for bail. If bail is set then the Court will schedule the matter for trial or in the case of a felony charge, a probable cause hearing is the scheduled. If the charge is a felony, a plea is not accepted at the time of arraignment.
Probable Cause Hearing: For a felony charge, the judge will need to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to send the case to Superior Court. If the case is bound over to Superior Court, a grand jury must decide whether to bring a formal charge against the Defendant called an indictment.
Indictment: If the grand jury brings forward and indictment against a Defendant, the Defendant is the required to appear for Arraignment in the Superior Court. After arraignment, the case is then scheduled for preliminary hearing, jury selection and then jury trial.
Jury Trial: The Defendant has a trial in Superior Court before a jury of 12 citizens who, after hearing testimony from various witnesses on both sides of the case, will need to determine if the Defendant is guilty or not guilty of the crime they have been accused of.
If the Defendant is found guilty then the judge sets a sentencing date.
Sentencing: The judge then issues the sentence to the Defendant.
Appeal: If there is a basis for appeal in a criminal case (a legal mistake was made during the course of the trial) the Defendant may file an appeal with the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The defense attorney and prosecutor file written arguments called “briefs” with the Supreme Court which are reviewed by the justices.
After reading the briefs, the justices listen to oral arguments from each side. The appeals court does not hear any testimony but the justices ask the attorney questions about the case during oral argument. The justices then issue a written opinion (usually in less than 180 days from oral argument) in which they determine whether the Defendant’s appealing issues are valid or if they uphold the jury verdict.