Unmarried CohabitationSeptember 10, 2022
The Initiation of a Criminal ChargeNovember 10, 2022
Representation During the Criminal Trial Process
This is just a very short introduction to the Kentucky criminal trial process. Several of the links below lead to a more in-depth discussion of each step and other topics related to the criminal trial process. Even this brief outline indicates the complexity of the criminal process and the potential difficulty in navigating to the best outcome.
Throughout this process the assistance of competent, experienced legal counsel is vital. If you have been charged with a crime and need advice, please contact us to speak with a skilled criminal trial attorney at Hurst & Hurst Law at (859) 209-2101.
A Bird’s Eye View of the Criminal Process in Kentucky
Understanding the process of a criminal prosecution is vital to successfully defend a criminal charge and asserting your rights as a defendant. There are six (6) steps to the criminal process in Kentucky, PLUS 1.
The following is a basic step-by-step explanation of what happens from the time a crime is first alleged - all the way to the end of the criminal trial.
Step 1 – Initiation of a Criminal Charge
Criminal prosecution is initiated in Kentucky through a warrant. There are three different ways in which a warrant is issued
- a criminal citation or complaint,
- an arrest warrant, or
- criminal summons
Most commonly a law enforcement officer files a criminal complaint with an attached affidavit which results in a warrant, that then orders an arrest or issues a summons. If the defendant is arrested prior to the complaint being filed, that is due to the officer witnessing an alleged crime taking place.
A defendant can be charged with either misdemeanor or felony charges, or a combination of both. The specific charges will determine which court the defendant goes to for their initial appearance.
Step 2 – Initial Appearance & Arraignment
The first appearance in court is known as an arraignment. At the arraignment, a defendant is notified of the charges against them, and their rights. The defendant enters a plea and the court addresses bail. Depending on the charges, arraignment can occur in either District or Circuit Court.
At the arraignment, a defendant can enter a plea of guilty, guilty but mentally ill, or not guilty. In some situations, a defendant can be offered a diversion program, “rapid disposition” or “rocket docket” agreement and the defendant will plead guilty at arraignment in return for a reduction in charges or sentence.
Step 3 – Preliminary Hearing
At this hearing, the Prosecution has to prove to the Judge that it is more probable than not that the defendant committed the crime charged. There are three possible outcomes of the preliminary hearing:
- Charges are dropped because the Prosecution cannot show probable cause,
- The Judge finds that probable cause does exist and turns the case over to the Grand Jury to seek an indictment, or
- The defendant agrees to proceed without requiring an indictment from the Grand Jury.
It is important to remember that if the charges are dropped at this point in the process the Prosecutor has the right to bring the charges again down the road since Jeopardy has not yet been attached.
Step 4 - Grand Jury & Indictment
The Grand Jury process is very secretive. The defendant and their counsel do not have the right to attend. The Judge, the Prosecutor, the Grand Jury, and witnesses are the only people allowed to be present. If the Prosecutor can present enough evidence to show probable cause then the Grand Jury can issue an indictment. Like the Preliminary Hearing phase, the Prosecutor can try multiple times to get a Grand Jury to issue an indictment.
Step 5 - Pretrial & Trial
The pretrial period is what occurs after the indictment but before the trial. During this time discovery takes place, pretrial motions are filed and heard, or a plea agreement can be reached.
Trials can be held in front of a jury or directly to the bench (meaning only the Judge makes the decision). In a bench trial, the judge hears the evidence and determines guilt or innocence. In a jury trial the jurors hear the evidence, determine guilt and make a recommendation on punishment. Jury trials in District and Circuit Court are effectively the same except that District Court juries are made up of six (6) jurors, whereas Circuit has twelve (12) jurors.
Step 6 - Sentencing
Sentencing occurs after the trial is completed or a plea is entered. Sentencing is the opportunity for the Judge to set the sentence for the defendant. Options for sentences range from diversion, conditional discharge, probation, jail incarceration, in-home incarceration, or a combination of these. Prior to sentencing, a defendant will have an interview with the Department of Probation and Parole for a presentencing interview (PSI). The PSI will provide information to the Judge to help make the decision on sentencing.
(Plus) Step 7 - Appeal
A criminal defendant has the right to file an appeal in Kentucky following a criminal conviction. If a defendant appeals the case goes to a higher court for review.