Progression of a Felony Case – What does a typical felony case look like?

There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” answer to a criminal case because all cases are different.  There are, however, certain specific criminal procedures in place in the way that the government prosecutes a felony case.

In this article, we take a closer look at the typical Progression of a Felony Case.

The Progression of a Felony Case


Prefiling Investigation

  • Police investigate crime, gather evidence and interview witnesses.
  • Police may attempt to contact suspect to obtain a statement.
  • Police make arrest or refer case to prosecutor for a criminal filing.
  • If a defendant retains the Attorney at this stage, the Attorney attempts to resolve the case without it ever being filed.

Phase 1

1st Arraignment -> Preliminary Hearing

Complaint Filed

1st Arraignment:

  • Defendant and Attorney appear in court to obtain a list of the charges and receive police reports and evidence in the case. Bail is argued.

Preliminary Hearing Setting:

  • The Attorney attempts to get the case dismissed, reduced, or resolved by way of a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement, compromise, or settlement of the case, usually between the District Attorney and the Defense. 95% – 97% of all criminal cases are settled this way.

Preliminary Hearing:

  • An evidentiary hearing is held before a judge to determine if there is sufficient evidence of each and every element of the crime to continue criminal court proceedings against the defendant. At this hearing, the Attorney tests the strength of the government’s case, exploits its weaknesses and sets up defenses.

Phase 2

2nd Arraignment -> Pre-Trial Conferences

Information Filed

2nd Arraignment:

  • If the case was not settled in Phase 1 or dismissed in the Preliminary Hearing. Defendant enters a plea of “Not Guilty” and bail is again argued, if necessary.

Pre-Trial Conference:

  • Settlement negotiations continue with the District Attorney’s Office in an effort to resolve the case.

Legal Motions:

  • If appropriate, legal motions will be filed and argued, Examples: illegal search and seizure, Miranda violations, discovery requests, motion to dismiss the preliminary hearing judge’s ruling.

Phase 3


Jury Impaneled

Jury Trial:

  • 12 Jurors decide Guilt or Innocence.
  • Guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Once a defendant has been tried for a crime and found “Not Guilty” the Government may not try them again for the same crime.
  • If a “Mistrial” is declared, the Government may retry the case.
  • If found “Guilty”, a defendant may appeal the juror’s decision.

We at the Law Offices of Robert Ernenwein have created a one page felony case document and felony case infographic to illustrate the typical Progression of a Felony Case.