first court appearance in Municipal or Justice Court is generally known as the
arraignment. The purpose of this hearing is be formally advised of the charges
against you and your constitutional rights regarding your case. If you are in
custody, bail will usually be addressed at this time. If you are out of custody,
your attorney can usually handle this court appearance without you needing to
be present. A not guilty plea will be entered on your behalf and the matter set
for either a pretrial, trial or preliminary hearing.
courts will set a case for a pretrial hearing. This gives the attorney a chance
to discuss the case with the prosecutor and attempt to resolve the case without
the need for a trial or preliminary hearing. If a resolution can be reached, then
you will appear before the judge with your attorney so that the plea can be entered
In misdemeanor cases, a trial will be set if the
matter is not resolved at the arraignment or pretrial conference. The attorney
will still attempt to resolve the case with the prosecutor prior to trial. If
a resolution cannot be reached, then the matter will proceed to trial with the
judge making the decision of guilty or not guilty. The trial will conclude your
misdemeanor case unless an appeal is filed. However, there may be subsequent status
check dates if there was a conviction and you were sentenced to complete certain
In gross misdemeanor and felony
cases, the matter gets set for a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing
is a probable cause hearing to determine if the matter should be sent to district
court for a jury trial. The prosecution need only present "slight or marginal"
evidence that a crime was committed and the person charged committed the crime.
It should be noted that this is not a trial so the defense generally does not
present evidence at this time. It is simply a chance for the defense attorney
to cross-examine the State's witnesses so that they will have an idea what this
person will testify to at a subsequent jury trial. If the State meets its burden
and presents slight or marginal evidence that the person committed a crime, the
matter gets sent up to district court.
It should be noted that if the
matter is negotiated and the person is going to be pleading guilty to a gross
misdemeanor or felony, then generally the preliminary hearing is waived so that
the matter can be sent to district court in order to enter a guilty plea pursuant
to the plea agreement.
Arraignment in District Court After Preliminary
The first appearance in district court is called the arraignment.
If the matter was resolved, then a guilty plea is entered and the matter is set
for sentencing. If the matter is not resolved, then a not guilty plea is entered
and the matter is set for a jury trial. A jury of twelve impartial people will
make the decision of guilty or not guilty at the trial. Both the prosecutor and
defense attorney will make opening statements, call witnesses, cross-examine witnesses,
present evidence and make closing arguments. The jury will then retire to deliberate
as to the guilt of the defendant. The prosecution must prove the charges beyond
a reasonable doubt in order for the jury to return a guilty verdict. The jury
must make a unanimous decision of guilty or not guilty. If the jury is unable
to return a unanimous verdict, a mistrial may be declared and the prosecutor can
elect to retry the case.
The matter is set for sentencing
if a person pleads guilty or there was found guilty at trial. At sentencing, the
judge will decide what a person's punishment will be. You and your attorney will
have a chance to address the judge and argue for the least possible penalty for
that specific offense.