Criminal cases can be confusing. They are designed to be speedy, but deliberate, so that the rights of both the accused and victims can be preserved. South County Law Firm usually gets involved after a person is charged or arrested. The first court hearing is called an arraignment. Here, charges will be read, the person’s legal rights described, an initial plea of not guilty will be entered. Any bond will also be discussed and set at this time.
The Court will automatically schedule the next court date, which is usually 30-60 days out. The next steps will vary on whether the charges are for felonies or misdemeanors.
For misdemeanors, the next court date will be a disposition docket. While waiting for the disposition docket, the attorney will gather evidence, investigate, and negotiate with the prosecutor. On the date of the docket, a decision must be made whether to plead guilty or go to trial. Trial procedures are mostly the same for felonies and misdemeanors.
For felonies, the next step is a preliminary hearing conference. This is when the attorney and the prosecutor discuss and negotiate the case. If the defendant accepts the offer, it will be entered that day and the terms of the offer entered. If the defendant does not accept the offer, the case will be set for a preliminary hearing.
During a preliminary hearing, witnesses testify, and a judge decides whether there is probable cause that 1) a crime was committed and 2) that the accused committed the crime. If there is such probable cause, trial will be the next step. If not, the case may proceed on reduced or different charges, or the charges may just be dismissed.
After a preliminary hearing is the arraignment, where the accused will enter a plea of not guilty and receive the official charges. After this, the attorney will prepare for trial and continue to negotiate and investigate the charges.
The last step is a trial on the charges levied against the accused. During the trial, evidence is presented, and witnesses testify in front of a jury. It is the jury who will decide whether the accused is guilty of the stated charges. If guilty, sentencing will then occur. If not, the case is usually over.
Given the procedural nature of criminal cases, and potential penalties, it is always advised to have an attorney help you through the process.
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