The Misdemeanor Process
Misdemeanors generally commence with the issuance of a criminal summons and complaint, or ticket. The Defendant may simply be issued a summons and released or they may be arrested and have to pay a bond to be released. In some jurisdictions, the Defendant must appear on the arraignment date. In others, the attorney can waive the arraignment and set a pretrial conference with the District Attorney. The attorney appears with the client at all court dates. The attorney orders, picks up and reviews all police reports and other evidence provide by the D.A. This is called discovery.
After the attorney’s initial review of discovery, the attorney reviews the reports with the client for their input. At the pretrial conference the attorney confers with the D.A. to explore the possibility of a disposition or plea bargain, if appropriate. If appropriate, a plea is entered and the case is set for sentencing. If the client wants to go to trial, a not guilty plea is entered. The attorney will then have a time limit to file pretrial motions. Motions are pretrial rulings of the Court on evidentiary issues such as suppressing statements or illegally seized evidence. A motions hearing is held and these issues are resolved prior to the trial date. If a trial is held, six jurors must vote unanimously as to the defendant’s guilt. Generally, misdemeanor trials last one to three days.
The Felony Process
Felonies generally commence with arrest and a filing of an affidavit for warrantless arrest or an arrest on a previously filed warrant. Almost all felony cases require the payment of a bond for release from custody. The client will have a first and second advisement in front of the Judge to address the amount of bond. There is a likelihood, depending on the charge, that the Court will impose conditions of bond, to be supervised through pretrial services. These conditions can be as minimal as checking in with pretrial services after each court date.
Depending on the charges, the Court may require a G.P.S. unit (to track the client, usually in cases of alleged domestic violence), a S.C.R.A.M. unit (to detect alcohol), mental health counseling, and /or U.A.’s and B.A.’s. The first appearance in Court after bonding is usually simply a scheduling date. The next Court appearance is for a dispositional conference with the D.A. (similar to a misdemeanor pretrial conference) or in some more serious circumstances, a preliminary hearing. Preliminary hearings require testimony and the D.A. must prove probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the Defendant likely committed that crime. It is really a preliminary screening device to weed out the truly weak cases. The aforementioned court dates are all held in a County Court division. Afterward, the case is “bound over” to a District Courtroom.
The first appearance in the District Court is called the arraignment. It is at this time that a plea bargain or a not guilty plea can be entered. If a pretrial disposition is reached, the client pleads guilty to a reduced offense (often with sentencing concessions) and the case is set for sentencing on a later date. In the meantime, the client interviews with the probation department and they prepare a report for use at sentencing. If a not guilty plea is entered, the attorney will have time to file pretrial motions and a motions hearing is held on evidentiary issues pretrial (similar to misdemeanor procedure). If a trial is held, twelve jurors must vote unanimously as to the Defendant’s guilt. Felony trials can last anywhere from two days to two months.