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What Happens When You Get Arrested? Your Guide to the Legal Process

Ordinary people get arrested every day in the Birmingham metro area, many of whom have never been involved with the legal system before. Whether you were arrested in a routine traffic stop, at the scene of an alleged crime, or in any other situation, it’s only natural to have questions. As a leading criminal defense attorney’s office in Birmingham, one of the first things our clients or their families ask us when they call is, “What happens when you get arrested?”

After all, an arrest is just one step in Alabama’s larger legal process, which can feel complex and overwhelming at first. Explore what exactly happens in the legal arrest process in Alabama and learn how a skilled attorney can provide assistance in this comprehensive guide.

What Happens When You’re Arrested in Alabama?

Here is a step-by-step overview of what happens when you get arrested in Jefferson County, Shelby County, or Tuscaloosa County:

The Initial Arrest

Being physically detained is the initial step in Alabama’s criminal justice process. The police put you in handcuffs and read your Miranda rights before questioning or detaining you. Miranda rights, also known as Miranda warnings, are based on the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. They include:

  • The right to remain silent                                                                                             
  • The right to an attorney
  • A warning that anything you say may be used against you in a court of law

Once the officer reads you these rights, you can either answer their subsequent questions or stay silent. We recommend staying silent until your attorney, either self-appointed or court-appointed, is by your side.

What if the police don’t read your Miranda rights? 

That’s a boon for your case, as anything you may have said during questioning becomes inadmissible in a court of law.

Note that while arrests typically involve law enforcement officers physically coming to you, there are instances where you may be summoned to the station. This approach is commonly used for low-level offenses such as certain DUI cases. It also applies when you aren’t a flight risk or a danger to yourself and others.

At the Precinct

After the arrest, the officers will bring you to their precinct for bookings. You’ll have your fingerprints and mugshot taken. The next steps will depend on the circumstances of your situation.

You may be detained in a jail cell while you wait for a plea bargain or court arraignment. However, getting arrested doesn’t always have to end with you in a jail cell. You may be released on bail until your court arraignment. Alternatively, officers might issue you a desk appearance ticket, allowing you to go home and appear in court later.

If you were summoned to the station instead of being physically arrested, the outcome will depend on the outcome of the interrogation. That means you may be free to go or formally arrested.

When to Hire an Attorney After an Arrest

Wondering when you’ll talk to your criminal defense attorney? This right applies immediately, and we highly recommend obtaining counsel within 24 hours of an arrest. Whether you request a public defender or hire an attorney, you can remain silent regarding your offense until you meet with your representative. 

It’s crucial to obtain counsel before your arraignment so your attorney can start working with you to build your defense and start fighting for the optimal outcome in your case.

Court Arraignment

A court arraignment is usually the next step in the arrest process. In Birmingham, Alabama, arraignment typically occurs within 24-72 hours after the arrest, especially if you’re arrested on a weekday. However, if you’re taken into custody on a weekend or holiday, arraignment may be delayed until the next available date.

What is an arraignment? 

It’s when you first appear before a judge, and the prosecution officially informs you of your charges. You’ll be required to enter a plea to these charges, typically either guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Your plea sets the stage for the next steps in your legal proceedings. Depending on your case, you may receive bail or be remanded to custody after the arraignment. 

Plea Bargains

If you plead not guilty, your case will proceed to pre-trial proceedings, during which plea negotiations/bargaining will occur.

Plea bargaining typically involves you, the defendant, and your attorney negotiating a mutually acceptable resolution. This may involve you agreeing to plead guilty or no contest to certain charges in exchange for concessions, such as reduced charges or a lighter sentence. If you accept the concessions, the case won’t proceed to the next stage.

Plea negotiations can occur before the arraignment to save time and resources for both the court and the parties involved. Also, whether or not to accept the concessions is ultimately your decision. Additionally, this step isn’t always guaranteed. Some cases proceed directly to trial without negotiations, while in other instances, plea bargaining can occur during the trial.

Preliminary Case Hearing

During the preliminary hearing, the judge evaluates the evidence presented by the prosecution to determine whether it’s sufficient to move to trial. If the evidence proves insufficient, your case is dismissed, and you’re free to go, or the judge may reduce your charges to a misdemeanor.

What is the difference between a jury and a grand jury?

The Grand Jury’s job is to listen to witnesses and evidence from the state (prosecution). They decide if there’s enough reason to formally accuse someone (indictment) of a serious crime (felony). An indictment is required before a felony trial can happen in Alabama.

A trial jury is a panel of citizens who decide the verdict (outcome) of your case after it has been presented in court.

The Trial

If there’s sufficient evidence, your case moves to trial. Your criminal defense attorney works to defend you while the prosecution attempts to prove your guilt. The trial period can last from hours to weeks or months, depending on your charges. 

At the end of the trial, the jury, through the judge, will pass judgment. If you are found not guilty, you will be set free.

Do all criminal cases go to court?

No. In fact, the vast majority of cases are settled before a trial is ever necessary. Of the charges that do not end in dismissal, it is estimated that 90-95% of cases are decided by plea bargain. It’s important to discuss your options with your attorney thoroughly, making sure they explain everything in detail.

The right defense attorney will have your best interests at heart every step of the way, whether your case ends in dismissal, a plea bargain, or a court trial. At Bennett Law, our goal is to provide you not only with a strategic approach but also full transparency, so you understand your rights, your options, and your case status at every step.

Basic Arrest Lingo

Here are definitions of some arrest-related terms to help you know exactly what’s happening if you are arrested in Birmingham:

Indictment vs. arrest

 An indictment is a formal accusation or charge issued by a grand jury. It specifies the charges against you based on the evidence presented by the prosecution. An arrest is when law enforcement officers physically detain a crime suspect.

Arraignment vs. indictment

An arraignment is a court proceeding where a defendant is formally informed of the charges against them, and required to enter a plea. An indictment is a formal charge, typically issued by a grand jury.

Grand jury vs. jury

A grand jury is a panel of citizens assigned by the court to determine if there’s enough evidence to justify charging the defendant with a crime. In Jefferson County, Grand Juries are a panel of 18 people, while in Shelby County they are a panel of 12. 

In contrast, a jury, also known as a trial or petit jury, is a group of 6-12 citizens who listen to evidence during a trial and determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence. Simply put, the grand jury’s function is investigative, while the jury decides guilt or innocence in particular trial cases.

Defend Your Rights in Alabama With a Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney

Getting arrested can be frightening and confusing. While knowing what to expect can help ease your confusion, having an experienced attorney can make all the difference. A seasoned criminal defense attorney will ensure you don’t incriminate yourself as they legally present you to ensure the best outcome. 

At Bennett Law Firm, Ansley Platt Bennett not only works with you to help you get the best possible results but also keeps you in the loop every step of the way with an easy-to-use client management system. If you’ve been arrested, whether for a DUI or a violent crime, don’t hesitate to seek representation. Call Bennett Law 24/7 at (205) 962-3548.

Start Your Free Legal Consultation in Birmingham, AL

Bennett Law Firm is on your side—we will work with you to fight for the best results. Contact us at (205) 962-3548 or request a free consultation online! We serve Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Shelby County, Jefferson, St.Clair, Blount, and surrounding areas. Call us anytime, day or night, 24/7!

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