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The Criminal Justice System

The American system of criminal justice is becoming more complex and more encompassing with the passage of each legislative session. Individuals who are charged with crimes often find themselves overwhelmed with uncertainty and anxiety. It is the defense attorney’s obligation to provide the client with as much information as possible, along with sound advice and counsel, so that the client can assist with his defense and make good decisions.

Our system of criminal justice ordinarily follows an established course from start to finish. These steps include the following:

Police Investigation

Police do not charge crimes, they investigate them. When a crime is reported, a patrol officer will typically take the initial report. In simple cases, the patrol officer may complete his review of the facts and prepare a report. Where necessary, crime incidents will be assigned to investigations for follow up. Detectives will interview witnesses, gather physical evidence and ultimately prepare reports to assist the prosecutors in filing a criminal case. If you are the subject of a criminal investigation, or believe that you may be, you should always consult with your attorney before submitting to police questioning. Police officers and detectives are highly trained in the art of interrogation – you must NEVER be the subject of police interrogation without the assistance of an attorney who is highly skilled in the area of criminal defense. You have no obligation to cooperate. The police are not your friends. Only an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney can help you decide whether to give a statement, what information you will volunteer, and insure that the police accurately and fairly relate your statements to the courts.

Prosecution of the Criminal Case

Prosecutors decide what charges should be brought in the criminal case, aided by information set forth in police reports. When a case is filed, either as the result of a probable cause arrest, indictment or arrest warrant, numerous court appearances are typically required. Misdemeanor cases can be set for trial immediately after the first appearance. Felony cases in Kansas usually include a preliminary hearing in which the prosecutor must present evidence to show, on a probable cause standard, that felonies have been committed. If so, the case is set for arraignment, and then trial.

The Trial

Prosecutors and police are highly motived and they want to win. You must assume that they will work hard to achieve their objectives. Never, never underestimate them. Likewise, you must have a lawyer who will fully investigate your case, prepare all defense witnesses for court, and out-work the prosecution. Outstanding defense lawyers know how to identify the weaknesses that exist in every case, exploit those weaknesses, and effectively communicate with the Court and jury. In the end, it is experience, hard work and integrity that produce results.

Post Trial Issues and Remedies

Defendants are sentenced after conviction by entry of a guilty plea or finding of guilty at trial. Preparation for sentencing hearings is just as important as trial preparation. A skilled defense attorney will work hard to put their client in the best possible position by introducing all mitigating facts that justify more lenient judicial treatment. Defense practitioners must also be vigilant in the identification of trial errors that may justify new trials.

All persons convicted in State Court by trial enjoy the right to an appeal. Less serious crimes are reviewed, upon request, by the Kansas Court of Appeals. More serious crimes enjoy a direct appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court. Otherwise, the Kansas Supreme Court entertains petitions for review to determine which criminal appeals are appropriate for their review. This is largely true in Federal District Courts as well, but defendants can also obtain appellate review after conditional guilty pleas.

Collateral attacks on convictions can also be brought by defendants. In Kansas, these Habeas Corpus type actions are often called “1507's.” Typically, they seek relief after ineffective assistance of defense counsel, due process violations and the like.

Post trial relief is to be avoided if at all possible! Your best chance of prevailing is almost always enjoyed at trial . . . you must have skilled representation willing to do everything lawful to protect your interests.