Initial Charges and Pre-Trial Release

When an officer has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, he or she will either issue a citation (for some misdemeanors) or arrest you. If arrested, then you will have to go through the bonding process. Some counties have preset bond amounts based on specific charges which allows you to obtain bond in a matter of hours instead of waiting on a judge to set bond. If you have not bonded out within 72 hours of your arrest, a magistrate or municipal court judge will advise you of the charges against you and discuss your eligibility for a bond. If you are not eligible for a bond based on the seriousness of the offense charged or your criminal history, then your case will have to be bound over to a superior court judge who will address a list of factors to determine the likelihood of you returning for trial if you are released and what restrictions need to be placed on you to give enough assurance that you will return.

Depending on the seriousness of the offense, the charges will be set forth in either an accusation submitted by the prosecution or an indictment issued by a grand jury. The formal charges are important because they set forth the specific elements of the offenses which the prosecution must prove at trial.

Pre-Trial Court Appearances

Your initial appearance in a criminal prosecution is called an arraignment. At arraignment, you are formally advised of the charges against you and asked if you plead guilty or not guilty. Pleading guilty. . . well don’t do it. Pleading not guilty preserves your right to a jury trial and initiates some deadlines for filing pre-trial motions to preserve all your constitutional rights and raise any potential questions of law.

After arraignment, any pre-trial motions will usually be addressed at a separate court date before trial. Depending on the issues raised, a successful motions hearing could mean that the case is dismissed or the prosecution will be barred from presenting a critical piece of evidence necessary to convict you.

Trial

The actual trial does not come for months or years after the initial arrest. The first stage of trial is jury selection where jurors from the county where the charges arise will be subpoenaed for jury duty and questioned as to their qualifications and ability to give you a fair trial. Next, each side will give an opening statement which usually serves as a roadmap for what each side anticipates will be presented at trial. Then, the prosecution will call their first witness and ask any relevant questions. After the prosecution is done with their first witness, the defense is given an opportunity to complete a thorough cross-examination of the witness. The process will continue for each witness until the prosecution rests or ends their presentation of evidence. Then, the defense has an opportunity to present evidence although you are under no obligation to do so and the jury will be charged that they cannot hold it against you if you do not present any evidence. After the defense rests, each side is given an opportunity to give a closing argument which is the final opportunity to drive home the pertinent points that each side wants the jury to focus on during their deliberations. Finally, the judge will give the jurors the law that they are to apply to the case that has been presented to them and they will retire to the jury room to deliberate. Once agreeing on a unanimous verdict, the jury will return to the courtroom and read aloud their verdict of guilty or not guilty to each offense charged. If the jury is unable to come to a unanimous verdict then it is considered a hung jury and the case could potentially be tried again at a later date with new jurors.

Administrative Hearings

Prior to trial, some offenses are subject to separate administrative proceedings. One such offense is DUI where the officer will file a petition to suspend your privilege to drive and an administrative judge will hold a limited hearing using a lower burden of proof than required in the criminal proceeding. Regardless, this hearing is an extremely valuable opportunity to get the officer to swear under oath about the specific observations that he made during his investigation and potentially catch the officer in a lie. Never waive such a hearing without consulting with an attorney first. If the judge upholds the suspension, then there will be additional consequences which will depend on how many DUIs you have had in the last five years.

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