Journalist's Guide

disclosed by each side and various motions are exchanged covering a variety of potential issues which may arise.

Discovery and motions practice are significant and are often overlooked by the media. Through discovery and motions, both sides learn more about the other’s presentation of its case. Motions to suppress statements and seized evidence are typical and usually give an opportunity for the police to show the strength of their testimony and the defense to probe for weakness. The court’s rulings on motions often determine whether critical evidence will be admitted or excluded at trial. Pleas and Verdicts While extensive preparation is required for a criminal trial, it is negotiation rather than trial that is the more common method of resolving serious criminal cases. As many as 90 percent of felony cases end in some type of plea agreement or some other action short of a trial, including those listed below. That may entail a plea to a less serious charge or an agreement with respect to sentencing. In some cases, the plea agreement may be binding , meaning that the judge agrees to be bound by the agreement if they accept it. If rejected, the plea is void. It is important to note that when a verdict is rendered either by a jury or judge - the actual decision is either guilty or not guilty . There is no finding of “innocent.” However, a defendant, if found not guilty, can be described as having been acquitted . A finding of “not guilty” reflects the fact the prosecution failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, not that the defendant is innocent. Resolutions of criminal cases other than by findings of not guilty and guilty include: Alford plea . This is a guilty plea in which the defendant maintains their innocence, but acknowledges the prosecution has sufficient evidence to convict. Nolo contendere . Used rarely and made famous by former Maryland Governor and Vice President Spiro Agnew. It means “no contest.” In this case, a defendant does not dispute the charges but also does not admit to guilt. Nolle pros . The state opts to end the prosecution and dismisses the charge. Stet . A suspension of the prosecution with the state given the opportunity to reopen the case without the need for the defendant to be recharged. The majority of stets result in no further prosecution. However, a significant number are reopened because of the defendant’s arrest on additional charges or their failure to live up to some agreed-to-condition within a reasonable time after the entry of the stet. Probation before judgment (PBJ) . This is a common resolution in many district and Circuit Court trials. The defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty. However, the final entry of judgment


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