A criminal case can lead to the defendant(s) being convicted of an offence or offences either after a trial or because they plead guilty. Alternatively, they may be found not guilty, or the case may be halted before a conclusion is reached.
Defendant pleads guilty
The person accused of an offence may admit they did it at a number of stages in the process. It could be at the first court hearing, at some point before the trial starts, or even during the trial. If they do so, then the sentencing hearing will be held, either immediately or at a later date if reports are needed.
Sometimes a defendant will admit to part of what they are accused of and the court may have to decide whether to sentence them on the basis of what they admit or on the basis of what the prosecution allege. There may have to be a court hearing to decide the basis on which to sentence – this is call a Newton hearing.
In other cases the prosecution and the court may agree to accept a guilty plea to a lesser charge (for example to careless driving rather than dangerous driving).
Most cases end with a guilty plea.
Defendant is found guilty
If the jury in a Crown Court trial or the magistrates or District Judge in the magistrates’ court decide a person is guilty of one or more of the charges made against them, the next step will be the sentencing hearing at which the judge or magistrates will decide what sentence should be given to the offender. This can be the same day as the verdict, but may be scheduled for a later date.
On occasions the jury or magistrates may find the defendant not guilty of the offence charged but guilty of a lesser charge.
Not guilty, or no verdict
If the magistrates/ District Judge or jury are not sure that the defendant is guilty, then they must find the defendant not guilty. That is then the end of the case.
In some Crown Court cases, a jury will be unable to reach a majority agreement on the verdict – this is called a hung jury. In such instances, the judge will discharge the jury and the prosecution may ask for a re-trial at a future date. If they decide not to proceed, then the charges are dropped against the defendant and that is the end of the case.
The case ends before a conclusion of guilty or not guilty
If the prosecution do not have enough evidence, they may drop the case before it goes to trial. Alternatively the case may be thrown out by the judge or magistrates, for example if key evidence is not available or if there is a reason why the defendant could not get a fair trial. Whether the defendant can be tried at a later date for the same offence will depend on the circumstances.