What can you expect at the court hearings and other important information
General Information on Court Appearances: A criminal case does not involve just one hearing. If charged with a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor charge, your appearance will be required at an arraignment, pretrial, and potentially other hearings.
- Remember everything you say to the prosecutor or anything you say in court can be used against you.
- It is best not to make any admissions in court or to the prosecuting attorney, even if the prosecutor is not present. You do not know who is sitting beside you, behind you, or just close enough to hear what is being said. Do not make any admissions to anyone, it is best not to talk about your case in public.
- Remember to be polite and kind to the court staff no matter what! The court staff cannot give you legal counsel.
- You should always be on time, but preferably about 30 minutes early to all court appearances. Dress respectfully.
- Do not try to explain happened at any court appearance, not to the judge or to any court staff or to probation. Your case will not be dismissed because of your explanation. Do not count on anyone to remind you. If you lose the date, be sure to contact the court immediately to obtain your next date.
Missing a court date might cause you to have a warrant issued against you or to be taken into custody by the court at your next court date. If something happens at the last minute, which might cause you to be late or to miss a court date, be sure to contact the court immediately—before the court date/time.
Arraignment: The arraignment has three main purposes:
- To determine if there is probable cause to proceed on the charges filed against you: The court will first review the evidence and establish whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed—also referred to as finding 'probable cause' for the arrest and to arraign you. Probable cause does not mean you are or will be found guilty, only a determination that the case may proceed.
- To have you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty: After the court finds probable cause, the court will ask you to enter a plea of 'guilty' or 'not guilty.' You are entitled to have an attorney present, so if you want to consult an attorney before entering a plea, you may do so. Some courts will have an public defender (attorney) present for you to consult with at that time. If you are unsure, them you should always plead "not guilty" to the charges—even if you believe you are or maybe guilty of the charge(s), because it may be possible to lessen the charges against you or even establish you are not guilty under the law. If you are not a U.S. citizen, a guilty plea may be grounds for deportation or other immigration problems.
- To determine whether the court will order pre-release conditions, bail, or release you on your own recognizance: Prior to the end of this hearing, the court will make a determination of whether there are any reasons to cause the court to believe you will not appear at future hearings or whether you pose a risk to the community if released. Based upon these determinations, the court will either release you on your own recognizance, release you with pre-release conditions, or take you into custody either with or without bail. If the court orders bail, then you may only be released by posting bail The court will give you the list of conditions, which are related to the charges against you. The conditions generally relate to the charges that have been alleged, such as abstinence from drugs or alcohol, no contact with a potential victim, removal from a home, being monitored by probation, or other such conditions as the court deems appropriate. You are responsible for knowing what they mean so that you can comply with the release conditions, so if you have questions contact the court or your attorney immediately. If you do not comply with the terms of your release, then probation will likely bring you in for a violation of the conditions of your release and you may be taken into custody until trial.
DUI Cases: There is one additional step for DUI cases. You will be given a mandatory first appearance, where a court will issue pre-release conditions. The conditions may include pre-release monitoring by probation, abstinence, installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle, attending all court hearings, posting bond, or other conditions that the court deems necessary depending on your situation.
Pretrial Hearings: The next hearing (after the arraignment) is a pretrial. The pretrial is an opportunity for the judge to hear from the parties on whether they are ready for a trial or if either side needs more time for any reason. Your attorney may need additional discovery or there are other problems that need to be addressed by the court. It is also possible at one of these hearings for the parties to reach some sort of resolution that will completely resolve the charges against you.
It is not uncommon for you to have two or three pretrial hearings leading up to either having the case set for a trial or resolving the case in some sort of deal. You are entitled to have a trial within 90 days of the arraignment. The court will likely grant your request for a continuance on the condition that you sign a Waiver of Speedy Trial—meaning the State has an additional amount of time to take the case to trial.
Trial Readiness: This hearing is just prior to the trial and the court is assured that both parties are prepared to proceed to a trial, which is generally set a few days or a week later.
Trial: The trial is either a bench trial or a jury trial, meaning it will either be the judge or a jury of six persons which will make the determination of whether you are guilty or not guilty. A trial may last anywhere from a couple hours to multiple days depending on the complexity of the case.
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