What are rules of criminal procedure?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The established methods and practices used to resolve criminal cases are embodied in a set of rules referred to as criminal procedure. The rules of criminal procedure are designed to ensure that an accused is given due process of law. Many Supreme Court opinions have been codified into rules of criminal procedure, like when a defendant’s statement may be used against him or her.

Criminal Procedures Covered by the Rules
Most states organize their rules of procedure chronologically. They begin by outlining who can receive and file a criminal complaint. Usually a district attorney, or similar office, is vested with exclusive authority over criminal matters. Next, the rules will set out how a complaint must be filed. Some district attorneys are permitted to file complaints or informations, which are the documents that put a defendant on notice of what they are charged with. Other states utilize a grand jury system, where a group of peers in the community decide which cases should move forward and be indicted. An indictment also puts a defendant on notice of their charges. The rules of procedure then outline the rest of the criminal process:

  • How bail is set and received.
  • What discovery, if any, defendant is entitled to receive.
  • How to request a speedy trial.
  • How and when a case is set for trial.
  • The order of trial.
  • What types of evidence can be received at trial.
  • How a verdict is to be received.

Rules of Evidence and Rules of Appellate Procedure
In addition to generally admissibility rules, some states also have rules of evidence. These rules establish how and when certain types of evidence can be presented to a jury. These rules are applicable to both the prosecution and the defendant. After a defendant has been found guilty, a different set of rules apply called the rules of appellate procedure. They are similar in purpose to the rules of criminal procedure, but are designed to guide a defendant through the appeals process. 


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