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What is the criminal trial process in Kentucky?

If you are facing criminal charges, you likely have many questions, including what it actually means to go to trial. Although the exact process will vary depending on the details of your case, the following will provide a general idea of what to expect.

What happens during an arrest?

The process often starts with an arrest. Police move forward with an arrest if they witness criminal activity, such as the possession of an illegal drug or driving while under the influence of alcohol (DUI), or if they get an arrest warrant. After the arrest, the police officer will likely bring you to a nearby jail for booking. The booking process includes taking your photo, getting your fingerprints, and gathering other personal information like your name and contact. The personnel at the jail may also conduct physical and mental screenings. After booking is finished, you can generally make a phone call.

Next, the pretrial officer will request an interview. This is optional. Within 12 hours of incarceration, the pretrial officer should decide whether or not you are eligible for release.

Your case will then progress in one of two ways. In the first, the county attorney believes there is not enough evidence, or that the evidence was not gathered following proper protocol and is likely to get tossed out of court. In this situation, the county attorney will either decline to move forward or may request the police continue their investigation to gather enough evidence to support charges. In the second, the county attorney reviews the evidence and believes there is already enough to support charges. If this happens, your case will move forward.

If the case moves forward, you will appear in court. This first appearance, arraignment, is when the judge informs you of the charges, your rights, sets your bond and gives you the opportunity to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If not guilty, the court will set a trial date.

How long does it take to go from arrest to trial?

It can vary. Kentucky law does not place a time limit on when the prosecution for a felony should move forward, but limitations are present for misdemeanors. The law requires prosecution of a sex offense involving a minor move forward within 10 years after the victim reaches 18 years of age. Other offenses must move forward within one year of commission.

What happens during the trial?

If the trial uses a jury, one of the first steps is jury selection. Both the prosecutor and defense attorney select jurors from the jury pool, or randomly chosen people pulled from the area based on voter registration records. The rest of the case generally progresses as follows:

  • Opening statements. Each side gets to give their account of what happened.
  • Witness examination. Each side calls and questions witnesses. The burden to prove guilt is on the prosecution, so they go first. Your defense team can then question the witnesses, known as cross-examination, and call up its own witnesses to help build your case.
  • Closing arguments. Each side gets a final opportunity to talk to the jury, to summarize the evidence and testimony from the witnesses and encourage the jury to rule in their favor.

The jury, or if one is not present the judge, will then make their ruling. After its ruling, the court will move forward with sentencing.

Is there anything else I should know?

There are two additional points. The jury’s decision is not always final. There are situations when an appeal is appropriate. This basically allows for a redo or another trial. In order to move forward with an appeal, you need to file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of sentencing. After filing, you have 60 days to prepare a brief. This is essentially a legal document that outlines why the appellate court should reverse or dismiss the conviction. Once received, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has 60 days to respond. The appellate court will review the written arguments and may schedule oral arguments. The appellate court generally decides several months after oral arguments.

If the appellate court upholds the conviction, you may be able to move forward and appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court. If the appellate court sets aside the conviction or chooses to reverse it, the appellate court could order a new trial. It could also choose to dismiss all or a portion of the charges.

It is also important to keep in mind that these laws are evolving. We mentioned in the discussion above about the arrest process how police need to follow proper protocol to gather evidence. If police fail to follow proper protocol, the court will not consider the evidence they gather. It will get tossed. But what does this mean? What exactly is proper protocol? The answer to this question and others that can impact your case are constantly getting updated by case law. This happens when courts are asked this question and they make a ruling that provides guidance. These rulings can impact your case. When this happens, these rulings are precedential. It is important to check for any precedential cases and take those court rulings into account when building your case.