The first appearance in court will be for an “arraignment hearing.” At this hearing the person accused, called the defendant, will formally be told of the crime(s) he or she is accused of and will be advised of his or her rights. The judge will want to hear the defendant plead guilty or not guilty. I strongly encourage every defendant to plead not guilty at the arraignment hearing. After the defendant pleads not guilty the court will consider whether or not to take the defendant into custody while the case is pending or considering conditions of release.
Examples of conditions of release could include but are not limited to:
- Bail (monetary collateral to the court to guarantee your presence in court when scheduled).
- Law abiding behavior.
- No contact with certain persons.
- Installation of an ignition interlock.
- Not to drive under certain conditions.
- Electronic home monitoring with alcohol detection devices.
- Random urinalysis test.
- Released on personal recognizance (simply agree to return back to court as scheduled).
At the pretrial hearing the case may 1) get resolved or 2) scheduled for another pretrial hearing or 3) set for a motion hearing or trial.
To resolve a criminal case during the pretrial stage means the defendant pled guilty to the original or reduced charge, or the case was dismissed. To plead guilty means to accept responsibility for committing a crime.
A reduced charge is when the prosecutor’s office agrees with the defendant to amend the original charge to, usually a less serious crime. For example, if a defendant was charged with DUI (Driving Under the Influence) the defendant may be able to resolve his or her case by convincing the prosecutor’s office agreeing to reduce the DUI charge to Negligent Driving 1st Degree.
When the case is scheduled to another pretrial hearing it’s called a “continuance.” The request for a continuance may be made either by the defendant or prosecuting attorney. A case may get continued at the pretrial hearing for a variety of reasons. Common reasons why a pretrial hearing may be continued is to have more time to investigate the case and/or more time is needed for further negotiations between defense attorney and prosecutor.
During the pretrial stage is when the defendant has the opportunity to review the “discovery.” The review of the discovery is usually done at the attorney’s office. The discovery is essentially everything related to the case, from the police reports, witness statements, video and audio evidence, photos, toxicology reports and etc. No defendant should resolve his or her criminal case without an ample opportunity to review the entire discovery and after proper investigation.
There is no fixed number of pretrial hearings. It is determined on a case-by-case basis. A defendant may be able to resolve his or her case with one pretrial hearing scheduled or may need more than 3 pretrial hearings scheduled prior to resolving his or her case.
If a criminal case does not resolve during the pretrial hearing stage then generally, the matter will proceed forward with a motion hearing, if applicable, and jury trial.
A motion hearing is a legal proceeding where legal issues are presented to a judge for consideration by both the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney. Legal issues such as, did the officer have a legal right to stop the defendant’s car, was the arrest lawful, did the officer get a proper search warrant, and was the breath test administered correctly? Witnesses may also testify in support of such arguments.
The judge will make his or her decision about the case after reviewing the written and oral arguments presented by the attorney. The judge in making his or her decision will determine if the case shall be dismissed or if it shall proceed forward with a trial. If the judge decides the case shall go to jury trial, he or she will also tell the attorneys what type of testimony and/or evidence may be presented at the jury trial.
A jury trial is a legal proceeding where a “jury” will decide if the defendant is innocent or guilty of the criminal charges he or she is accused of. A jury is made up of either six or twelve individual members of the community. Generally, misdemeanor cases will have six jury members and felony cases will have twelve jury members. To make a fair decision on the merits of the case, jury members should be mentally healthy and unbiased, they need to be able to listen to testimony and examine evidence presented.