If you have been arrested for the first time, it can be an alarming and confusing experience. The first thing you should do is to contact a criminal defense attorney who will listen to what you have to say about the background to your arrest and explain what happens next. Here are some of the main steps explained, assuming you have already been arrested or are about to be arrested.
The initial arraignment
In Alaska, you will appear before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest. This is not a trial and there will not be a jury involved. That may come later. The judge doesn’t make any ruling about the charges made against you at this stage, but plainly states the charges as they have been laid by the prosecutor.
Apart from the charges being made clear to you, the judge also provides you with documents that detail the separate charges (there may only be a single charge). The judge explains that you have a right to be represented in court and that if you cannot afford a private attorney, you will be appointed a public defender, basically an attorney who is employed by the state to represent you throughout.
Lastly, the judge will decide whether to consider letting you out of jail on bail.
Bail is a payment to the state that is made on your behalf that allows you to go home and get on with life under the agreement that you turn up for trial when instructed to do so. In some cases, the judge may release you without a bail payment, or not allow bail at all if he/she thinks that you are a risk to the community or may find a way to disappear or leave the country.
The role of the Grand Jury
The Grand Jury is a group of 18 people drawn from the community who meet to consider the evidence provided by the prosecution about your case if you have been charged with a felony. Grand juries do not meet to consider the fate of misdemeanor charges. They are also not there to make a final decision about the charges that have been laid, but to consider whether the evidence presented by the prosecution is sufficient to convict you if you did go to trial in their opinion. The consensus is decided by a majority of jurors. If there is a consensus of opinion that the evidence is unlikely to convict you, then the charges may be withdrawn and you may then be released.
Post indictment arraignment
If a Grand Jury has indicted you, i.e. considered that the charges laid against you are convincing enough, you will then be instructed to appear before a judge again. You will be asked to enter a plea, i.e. guilty or not guilty. Your attorney will probably have suggested what you should plea. If you, as a defendant, decide to plea “not guilty”, then there will be a trial called. In Alaska, every defendant is supposed to attend a trial within four months of their arraignment, but in practice the interval is often longer.
Assuming that you pleaded not guilty, the trial will take place several months later. There will be a jury of 6 if the charges are misdemeanors and 12 if you have been charged with a felony. Felonies are more serious than misdemeanors and generally the minimum period of incarceration if you are convicted is more than 1 year, rather than less than a year if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor.
The jury must come to a unanimous conclusion about your guilt or innocence at the end of the trial. If there is no unanimity, there may be another trial convened at a later date with different jurors. Each charge is decided separately and it is common for juries to agree to one charge but have an opposite opinion about another.
If the jury decides you are innocent, then you will be released immediately. If it decides you are guilty, then the judge will make a decision about your sentence. Sentencing is mostly decided by Alaska’s statutes, i.e. what is determined by law.
If you have been convicted of any charges, you have the right to make an appeal to the Appeals Court. The jury’s decision or the way the judge treated your case may be reasons for an appeal. The Appeals Court may decide to have another trial or dismiss your convictions altogether.
If you have been accused of a crime, or have been already arrested, you have the right to effective legal representation. Contact attorney Scott Dattan, as soon as possible. He will vigorously defend your innocence, negotiate a plea bargain or will fight to represent you in court. You can contact the Law Office of Dattan Scott Dattan in Anchorage at 907-276-8008.