Basic Overview of the Criminal Justice Process

Types of Criminal Charges


A crime punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or up to a $2,500 fine.


A crime punishable by one or more years in the state prison.

Types of Trial-Level Criminal Courts

General District Court

Trial court for misdemeanors involving adults that do not have an immediate familial relationship with their victims. Also holds preliminary hearings for felony cases.

Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court

Trial court for misdemeanors involving juvenile victims or defendants and those cases in which the defendants and victims have an immediate family relationship. Also holds preliminary hearing for felony cases.

Circuit Court

Trial court for felony cases and misdemeanor appeals.

Types of Criminal Hearings


A defendant's first appearance before the court. The court reads the charges, determines whether the defendant will hire a lawyer, and sets a date for preliminary hearing or trial.

Preliminary Hearing

A probable cause hearing for a felony. Here, the prosecutor must show that a crime probably occurred and the defendant probably did it.


A finding by the grand jury that a crime occurred, the defendant probably committed it, and the case should be tried.


A bench or jury hearing to determine the defendant's guilt or innocence.


A post-conviction hearing where both sides may present evidence. After hearing evidence, the judge or jury determines the appropriate punishment.

Possible Outcomes in a Criminal Case

Acquittal or Dismissal

The defendant is found not guilty. Victim/Witness is available to assist you with an appropriate referral.

Nolle Prossed

The prosecutor elects not to prosecute the case.


A defendant is found guilty and sentenced.

Other Terms to Know


An order of the court for a witness to appear at a particular time and place to testify and/or produce documents in the control of the witness. Failure to appear when subpoenaed could result in criminal charges.


A writ ordering the arrest of the named person. Typically issued when someone fails to appear to court or fails to comply with a court's order.