Criminal Procedure Rules: Definition, Laws & Examples

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  • 2:22 Laws & Examples
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brittany McKenna

Brittany is a licensed attorney who specializes in criminal law, legal writing, and appellate practice and procedure.

In this lesson, you will be introduced to rules of criminal procedure. This lesson also covers the administration of criminal justice and provides examples of the application of the laws of criminal procedure.


Imagine that you're suspected of committing a crime. Being the upstanding citizen that you are, this is surely a stretch. Just humor me for a second. What are your rights? And how can you be sure that your rights aren't being violated by the police and prosecutors? There's something that keeps that from happening called the criminal procedure.

The criminal procedure is what governs the administration of criminal justice. It comes in the form of rules and laws. In addition to each state's rules of criminal procedure, the federal rules of criminal procedure dictate the process followed in federal criminal prosecutions.

Now let's look at the steps that are part of the criminal procedure and the relevant laws. Imagine again that you have been suspected of committing a crime. The criminal procedure process begins with the investigation of suspected criminal activity. During the investigation, law enforcement officers will collect the evidence needed to carry out an arrest. You'll be taken into police custody and you'll be brought before a court for the arraignment. At the arraignment, you'll be informed of the charges against you and given an attorney. You may be detained and held in jail or released on bail until your next scheduled court appearance.

Before the trial is scheduled to begin, you (through your attorney) may negotiate with the prosecutor. This process, known as plea bargaining, may result in a guilty plea in exchange for a more favorable sentence. Don't believe everything you see on T.V. The majority of criminal cases end with a plea bargain and never go to trial.

But let's say that you're so sure of your innocence that you want to take your case before a jury. If you're unable to reach a plea agreement with the prosecution, the case will proceed to trial. You may be tried before a jury, or before the judge alone. At trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. This means that the prosecution must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that you're guilty of the charged crimes. This means that you don't have to prove your innocence; instead, the prosecutor has to prove your guilt.

At the end of the trial, the jury will determine whether to convict or acquit based on the evidence presented at trial. This determination, known as the verdict, is presented to the judge, who will then enter a judgment. If you're found guilty of the crime, the case proceeds to the sentencing phase, where your punishment is set.

Laws & Examples

The rules of criminal procedure are designed protect your civil liberties. Civil liberties are the basic personal freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The rules of criminal procedure strike a balance between the government's interest in punishing criminals and your interest in a fair trial.

If the government violates your constitutional rights in the course of investigating a crime, the evidence obtained as a result of the violation may be excluded at trial. This principle is known as the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule is intended to deter unconstitutional government activity.

The Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures. In the constitutional context, the word 'seizure' refers to when the government interferes with your personal property or your personal liberty. Examples of seizures include a police officer taking your backpack into evidence, or stopping you on the street for questioning. An arrest is also considered a seizure.

Persons, personal belongings, private residences, and motor vehicles are often the subject of searches and seizures. A warrant is required before law enforcement officers may conduct a search or seizure. A warrant is a document explaining what the officer intends to search or seize. The warrant must be based on probable cause, which means the reasonable grounds upon which law enforcement officers believe certain facts to be true. A judge will review and sign the warrant before the officer may conduct the search or seizure.

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