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The criminal court system

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Updated: 4/13/2007 6:35 pm
The criminal court is a fundamental institution in the justice system, and it's purpose is to decide whether a suspect of a crime is guilty or not, and if the verdict is guilty, to decide on punishment. The main participants in the criminal court system are the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, and the defender. In most criminal cases, the accused has the right to a speedy trial by jury. When a suspect has been arrested, the public prosecutor files charges in court, and the suspect is arraigned or given an initial hearing by a judge. In some cases, a prosecutor may enlist the help of a grand jury to decide whether or not to prosecute, and if so, what charges are to be leveled against the accused. At the initial hearing or arraignment, the judge generally sets bail and orders the accused to appear in court at a certain time for trial. At the trial, the prosecutor and the defender argue the case, and the jury decides on a verdict. If the accused is found innocent, he or she is free to go; if the accused is found guilty, the judge will hand down a sentence, either immediately or at a special sentencing hearing. In cases of capital crimes, in states with the death penalty, a jury decides on the sentence in a special sentencing phase of the trial. Because of the pressure on the criminal justice system, many cases are settled before they go to trial in a procedure called 'plea bargaining.' Here, a prosecutor may offer a suspect a less-serious charge in return for a guilty plea. Some states only allow plea bargaining to take place during certain phases of the criminal process; other states allow plea bargaining at any time up to the point that a verdict is reached.
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