The Alaska Criminal Procedure includes a myriad of steps which are designed to ascertain that the suspect of a criminal act did indeed commit the offense that he is being blamed for and punishing those who are found guilty. The process starts with the issue of arrest warrants and detentions made in connection with criminal infractions and goes up to the point at which the charge of the criminal is handed over to the Department of Corrections.
From the police station to the court!
Arrests will occur rapidly if the crime in question is a felony or a serious misdemeanor. The police just need to have probable cause against a felony suspect to detain him. However, in case of misdemeanors, the requirement for active warrants from AK can be done away with only if the accused has committed the crime in front of a police officer.
Like in all other parts of the country, detainees do have Miranda Rights which protect them from self incrimination and the right to seek bail within 48 hours of being arrested. Although the sheriff’s department will try to produce the defendant before the court within 2 days of being detained, the actual schedule of the arraignment or initial appearance will depend on the court timetable.
Where are criminal offenses tried?
Misdemeanors which are rarely jury trials will usually be heard by the District Court while felonies will always be handled by the Superior Court. However, all preliminary proceedings connected with felony charges are managed by the lower tribunal. So, whether it is the issue of an arrest warrant or the eventual hearing of the bail petition and even the arraignment and the first appearance for felony cases are conducted at the District Court.
Any article on criminal proceedings would be incomplete without discussing bail. This is a form of conditional release where the accused ca be freed from police custody either on bond or personal recognizance as long as the magistrate is certain that the accused will show up in court for further hearings. So, it would be safe to say that although the constitution allows everybody to seek release on bail not everybody is granted this facility.
The difference between plea and plea bargains
A plea is entered at the arraignment for misdemeanors as well as felonies; the only difference is that the arraignment and the bail hearing are the first court sessions that a person accused of a misdemeanor will attend. In contrast, a preliminary or first appearance will be held for felonies in which the magistrate will explain the charges and the rights to the accused of a felonious crime.
The state files certain criminal charges against the accused and a plea is basically the response of the defendant to these accusations. So, the suspect can enter three possible pleas:
- Guilty: I accept the charges framed against me. The next step will be sentencing instead of trial if this is the plea entered by the defendant
- Not guilty: I refute the charges filed by the state; the case will go to trial in this scenario
- No contest or nolo contendere: I agree to not fight the charges; the matter will go to sentencing even in this case but the plea cannot be used against the defendant in any civil litigation.
A plea bargain is essentially a deal reached between the defense and the prosecution through which it is decided that the state would lower the charges against the accused and seek lower penalty in return for the defense agreeing to plead guilty and saving the state the time and effort that would be spent in going to trial.
Intricacies of criminal trials
In case of misdemeanors, the matter will be heard by the judge or a 6 member jury panel while felonies will always be handled by 12 jurors. The jury will hand in the verdict based on the argument presented by the defense and prosecuting attorneys. Their decision has to be unanimous for it to be considered a verdict.
If some jurors do not agree, the case will be retried in front of a new jury. The sentencing is carried out by the judge on the basis of the crime in question, the specific circumstances that surrounded the incident, prior arrest records and a presentence report.