Stages of the criminal process in detail

It is possible to distinguish the following stages of the Chilean criminal process:

The Public Prosecutor’s Office receives the background of the complaint and may decide not to initiate the investigation if the facts reported do not constitute a crime, or there is not enough background, among other reasons. If the Public Prosecutor’s Office decides to initiate the investigation, it will formalize the accused through a hearing called a “formalization hearing.

In this first formalization hearing and throughout the process, the accused person will have a criminal defense. If a person is summoned to a formalization hearing, he or she may go to the Public Defender’s Office and seek the advice of a defender.

At the first hearing, the accused will be informed of the existence of an investigation against him or her, which may be extended for a maximum of two years, and precautionary measures may be ordered (pretrial detention, periodic presentation (signature), or prohibition of approaching the victim, among others, whenever the judge deems it necessary).

If the person charged with a crime, advised by a defence counsel, accepts, an agreement may be reached and alternative solutions may be chosen, which shorten the process and must be approved by the judge:

a. Conditional suspension. It may be applied when the crime is of low or medium gravity (the penalty is not more than three years) and if the accused does not have a criminal record. In this case, the prosecutor must agree with the accused.

b. Reparation agreement: may be applied in the case of patrimonial crimes or less serious injuries (cases of intra-family violence or culpable crimes are not considered, see more on Domestic Violence). In this case, the victim must agree with the defendant.

Investigative measures that make it possible to clarify the facts. The Public Prosecutor’s Office directs them and coordinates the actions of the police and other specialized agencies. The defense attorney coordinates the necessary steps to ensure an effective defense, that is, to present evidence in the trial in favor of his client. The accused can guide the defender to obtain background information to ensure his defense, and therefore, the balance in the investigation.

The prosecutor communicates in a hearing before the guarantee judge that the investigation has been formally closed and may opt for:

a. Withdraw the case because the necessary background has not been gathered (the power not to persevere), or

b. The cause is temporarily or permanently without cause, or

c. Accuse.

If the prosecution decides to indict the accused, and the accused voluntarily agrees to be tried on the basis of the facts indicated by the prosecution, the accused (advised by his defence counsel) may waive an oral trial and opt for a summary procedure, which occurs when the prosecutor requests a sentence of less than 5 years, so that the guarantee judge could not apply a higher one.

If the conditions for an expedited trial are not met, the preparation of the oral trial begins with the formulation of the indictment by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. At this hearing, the defense attorney and the prosecutor publicly discuss the evidence that will be presented at the trial, the facts that will be considered proven, and the evidence that will be considered excluded. The guarantee judge will then determine the facts and evidence for which the accused will be tried and which will therefore be presented at the oral trial.

The oral trial takes place before an Oral Criminal Court, composed of three judges. The prosecutor and defence counsel present their evidence and only if the accused so wishes may testify. The purpose of this trial is to verify the existence of the crime and the degree of responsibility of the accused in the crime.

After the pleadings, the court deliberates and delivers the verdict of conviction or acquittal. If the defence counsel or prosecutor does not agree with the sentence, they may appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court.

In contrast to civil law, criminal law involves crimes against the state, the government or society as a whole, rather than against a private party or person. Criminal violations, such as felonies and misdemeanors, are subject to state and federal penalties; therefore, offenders face jail time, government fines, and, in extreme cases, the death penalty. Although a murder is a crime against a person, the crime itself is against state and federal law, so it is a criminal rather than a civil case. These cases go to a jury trial where the defendants are prosecuted by the state. In criminal litigation, defendants can appoint their own attorney, or have the state appoint one for them if they cannot pay for one themselves.

In criminal law, the burden of proof shifts to a more complex principle. First, it is always up to prosecutors to provide evidence to prove that the defendant is guilty. All people are innocent until proven guilty, so the defendant does not have the burden of proving his own innocence at all in a criminal case. There are some exceptions to this rule, in the case of lawsuits for insanity and self-defense. The State has the responsibility to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty of the crime in question. There must be virtually 100% certainty that a defendant is guilty for a jury to render a verdict of guilty.

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