What Happens in Court
Meeting with Your Attorney:
If you hire a private lawyer, the lawyer will meet with you at his or her office or, if you are in custday, at the jail. S/he will usually requireyou or your family to pay your fees or at least a substantial portion of them, prior to going to court. The lawyer will be able to answer general questions but not be able to thoroughly discuss your case with you until you appear with your lawyer at arraignment and obtain the police reports and information about the actual charges that have been filed against you.
Arraignment and Pretrial Conference:
The arraignment is the first appearance in court at which you answer to the charges. Most people plead not guilty at arraignment unless there is a prior arrangement made by your attorney . If you are charged with a misdemeanor your next appearance may be a settlement conference or pretrial appearance. At this appearance your lawyer and the prosecuting attorney will discuss the charges against you and try to reach a disposition that is acceptable to you and to the prosecutor.
Your right to trial by jury:
You have the absolute right to a trial by jury on any criminal matter. To be convicted twelve people have to hear the case and all agree that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. To be acquited all twelve have to find that you are not guilty.
Pretrial settlements ("Plea Bargains") for felonies only.
You and your lawyer may decide to enter into some type of negotiated settlement instead of going to trial. The disposition or plea agreement offered will depend, among other things, on the seriousness of the crime, any problems the prosecutor may have in proving the crime if you were to go to trial, and your previous criminal record, if any. Other considerations may include any defenses you may have to the charges, extenuating circumstances, and the wishes of the victim, if a victim is involved. Your attorney's skill at negotiating is essential in developing a possible plea. The prosecuter may also consider the general reputation of your attorney. Especially in minor cases, you may be able to plead to a reduced charge or agree to a penalty that is acceptable to you, and avoid the risk of going to trial. Your attorney is obligated to present all plea agreement offers to you, and to advise you of the possible penalties to which you may be subjected should you decide to go to trial and are convicted.
Preliminary hearing (for felonies only)
If you are charged with a felony, your next court appearance after the arraignment may be a preliminary hearing at which a judge will listen to the evidence against you and decide whether there is enough evidence to let the case go forward to trial. Usually the preliminary hearing consists of a police officer getting on the witness stand and testifying to his or her observations and what some witness told him or her. The prosecutor has the option of bringing in the actual victims, if any, to testify against you. While a few cases are dismissed at the preliminary hearing, it only requires a tiny bit of evidence for the judge to hold you to answer.
Second Arraingment (after the prelim.)
After the preliminary hearing you will have another arraignment and there will be more efforts to settle the case prior to trial, if you have any interest in doing so. During this period your attorney will be investigating possible defenses, interviewing witnesses, obtaining information from the prosecutor about the evidence against you, and preparing any legal challenges s/he may have to present to the court. An important part of what happens during this period will be discussions between you and your attorney about what type of defense should be presented.
If your case is not settled or dismissed you will have a trial. Your lawyer will participate in choosing a jury, the lawyers will both make opening statements and then the evidence will begin. The prosecution goes first and must put on witnesses and evidence to establish your guilt. There are may rules of evidence that both sides must follow. Your attorney will cross examine the prosecutor’s witnesses and then your attorney will have an opportunity to present witnesses and evidence in your favor. After all the testimony and evidence has been presented, the lawyers will each argue their interpretation of the evidence and the judge will instruct the jury on the law which they are to apply to the facts. Jury trials can take from a day to a year or so, depending upon the seriousness and the complexity of the case and the number of witnesses on each side.
Criminal Law • Trials • Appeals • Writs
Special Expertise in Murder and other Serious Felonies