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Criminal defense: Arrest, arraignment and probable cause

Although popular court dramas would have people believe that a case is solved, an arrest made and the trial concluded in a matter of days if not hours, the truth is this is not reality. While most criminal cases will have the same basic steps, more challenging cases may mean additional hearings and motions and a longer trial.

The first real landmark and start of any criminal case is the arrest. In some situations, the arrest will come after a long police investigation, and in others, it could be after a routine traffic stop. After the arrest, the defendant will be arraigned in a District Court.

The purpose of the arraignment is for the defendant to enter a plea and the date of the probable cause hearing to be set. Arraignment takes place within 24 hours of the initial arrest, so it is very important that the defendant has already talked with an attorney at this point before entering the plea.

The probable cause hearing normally takes place days after the arraignment as long as the defendant does not waive the right to the hearing. This step is where a judge decides if there is enough probable cause for the case to move on to the Grand Jury and also if the defendant will have to remain in custody.

A probable cause hearing can look very much like what most people think of when they think of a trial. The prosecution will present evidence and witnesses, and the defense will cross-examine the witnesses and have a change to argue that there is no probable cause.

Even in these early stages, seemingly simple cases can become complex in a matter of minutes, making it crucial for defendants to have knowledgeable legal representation to help them navigate the New Hampshire courts every step of the way.

Source: New Hampshire Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General, "NH Criminal Justice System" Dec. 08, 2014

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