A look at how the legal process may play out in the case against Ahmed Abu Khattala. The Libyan militant faces criminal charges in the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans from the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. An initial court appearance at the federal courthouse in the nation's capital was possible Saturday:
Q: What happens at an initial appearance?
A: This the first time a defendant appears in court following his or her arrest. The charges against the defendant are typically explained at this point. A judge advises the defendant of the right to be represented by a lawyer throughout the proceedings. Defendants are not asked to enter a plea at this point. A judge makes a determination on whether the defendant can be released pending the next court date or the defendant must remain in custody.
Q: Who is representing Abu Khattala?
A: That is not yet clear, though defendants are often represented by public defenders or court-appointed attorneys during their first court appearance.
Q: What is the next step in the legal process?
A: In order to move a felony case to trial, the Justice Department must present sufficient evidence to a grand jury to obtain a formal indictment. An indictment is a charging document that prosecutors use as a roadmap for their case and generally provides more information than the initial complaint that has been drawn up. So far, Abu Khattala is charged in a three-count criminal complaint that was unsealed within days of his capture on June 15.
Q: Where is Abu Khattala being held?
A. No plans have been announced, but there are many secure prison facilities — military and civilian — where he could be housed. The courthouse where Abu Khattala would be tried in downtown Washington has a high-security courtroom.