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Criminal Process

 

Arraignment
The 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.

Pretrial Conference
Some 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 into.

Trial
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 requirements.

Preliminary Hearing
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 Hearing
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.

Sentencing

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.



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