6 Important Phases of the Criminal Legal Process for a Defendant

The criminal legal process is complicated and often confusing for the accused. If you are under investigation or have been arrested or convicted in federal court, your biggest fear is most likely the unknown. 

At Liberty Advisors, we understand your concerns. That’s why we’ve broken down the process into phases you may experience as the accused. This list is not exhaustive, nor will every step apply to every defendant. Consult with an attorney to find out which of these steps may apply to you. The phases of the criminal legal process a defendant will likely be concerned with are:

  • Investigation
  • Arrest and Arraignment
  • Pre-Trial Services Through Plea or Trial
  • Sentencing
  • Prison
  • Reentry 

Let’s explore what each of these phases involves and how a prison consultant can support you throughout the process.

1. Investigation

In the federal criminal legal system, investigations typically last for months or even years before the potential defendant is aware they are being investigated. When you realize you are under investigation or receive a target letter, you should first engage a skilled criminal defense attorney. 

This should always be your first step, but you should not stop there. You can also benefit from working with a prison consultant. 

In collaboration with an experienced defense attorney, Liberty Advisors can help clients adjust to their lives under federal investigation. Your consultant will help you understand what may occur during the investigation, what you can do to protect your privacy, and how to maintain your life despite the disruption.

2. Arrest and Arraignment

You may be indicted for a crime without knowing an investigation even occurred. As such, you may be arrested without warning, or you may be informed that you should surrender yourself for arrest. Either way, being arrested can be a traumatic experience, even when you know it might happen.  If you are able to self surrender, an experienced prison consultant can explain the process ahead of time to help ease your anxiety.

After you’re arrested, you’ll be arraigned and may have additional bail hearings determining whether you will be released or held in custody until your trial. If you know an arrest may be coming, a prison consultant can explain what to expect during an arraignment and how to prepare for your bail hearing. 

3. Pre-Trial Services Through Plea and Trial

Once you have been arrested and if you are released on bail, you will be required to report to pre-trial services for an interview. Discuss with your attorney what the next steps in your case will be. 

Pre-trial services is like probation but occurs before you have been convicted rather than after your sentence ends. Your pre-trial services officer will explain the conditions required for you to remain out on bail during the pendency of your case. 

You may be required to report to their offices in person or by phone, submit to regular drug and alcohol tests, attend addiction or other mandated courses, and face other restrictions on your movement or activities. Throughout pre-trial services, an expert prison consultant can help. This support can make your experience less stressful and overwhelming. 

In addition to the pre-trial services, an experienced prison consultant can help you prepare for what to expect when pleading guilty or going to trial. Your consultant can also help you better understand what the potential outcomes may be. For example, if you plead guilty and are out on bail, it is likely you will remain out on bail until sentencing. However, if you go to trial and are found guilty, the judge may increase your bail or remand you, meaning that you may no longer be eligible to be out on bail. Regardless of which path you take, the expert prison consultants at Liberty Advisors are there to support you and your family.

4. Sentencing

If you plead guilty or are found guilty after trial, the next step you will need support and preparation for is your sentencing. This is one of the most important elements of the criminal legal process. You will prepare with your attorney for this phase long before the date of sentencing. 

You may present your story to the probation officer responsible for producing the Pre-Sentencing Report (PSR) in person or through your attorney. However, on the day of sentencing, you will stand before the judge and be asked questions. You will also have the opportunity to address the Court and speak on the record. What you say and how you say it is very important.

Telling your story in your own words is critical. Many probation officers and judges can lose sight of convicted people as human beings. Working with an experienced prison consultant and sentencing advocate will help your defense team humanize you and remind you and the Court that this is only one moment in your life. It does not define who you are. A prison consultant and sentencing advocate like Tara Lenich can help you become comfortable telling your story in your own words. She will guide you through presenting your story, including what information you should mention to mitigate your sentence while communicating with your attorney to avoid any potential legal issues.

5. Prison

After you have been sentenced, you may have just a few weeks to prepare before your sentence begins. You’ll need to use this time to learn about your designated facilities rules – both written and unwritten, such as:

  • Options for food
  • What to expect with privacy
  • What is day to day life like
  • Communication tools

A prison consultant can help your answer questions about these issues. They can also prepare you and your loved ones mentally and emotionally for your time in prison.

Additionally, you may need to consider issues like:

  • Managing your home to prepare for time away.
  • Putting services/utilities on hold.
  • Setting up a power of attorney.
  • Preparing finances, setting up commissary accounts, and finding financial advisors.
  • Determining what to do with pets and pet care.
  • Preparing family and friends by providing practical, realistic answers to their questions before and during your incarceration.

A skilled prison consultant can help you organize and prepare your home, finances, and relationships for the length of your sentence. They can also alleviate some of the burdens and ensuing anxiety of explaining this phase to loved ones. With your permission, Tara can answer questions from your friends and relatives.

6. Reentry

While many people view the end of their sentence with excitement, the process of exiting prison is more complex than you may realize. Most people leaving the federal prison system spend time in halfway houses before being released. These facilities are intended to help inmates reintroduce themselves to society, but residents may still face surveillance and scrutiny. 

You will also likely face probation even after being released from a halfway house. The specific terms of your probation will vary depending on a wide range of considerations. You may simply have to call your probation officer on a set schedule, or you may face additional requirements such as drug testing, mandatory visits to the probation officer, and required drug or anger management courses. 

Get Help With Every Phase of the Criminal Legal Process

Prison consultants can support and prepare clients in all phases of the criminal legal process, from investigation to sentencing to reentry. A good advisor can reshape a client’s experience and help make it less traumatizing. They can also help alleviate your loved ones’ stress and anxiety as they too face the unknown. No matter what stage of the process you are in, Liberty Advisors can help. Liberty Advisors offers comprehensive support to clients, their loved ones, and their defense attorneys throughout every step of the criminal legal process. Tara is dedicated to providing every client with personalized attention and every attorney with support relevant to the case. Learn more about how we can assist you by scheduling your consultation today.


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