Misdemeanor Case Procedure

What to Expect in a Misdemeanor Case

If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, you are facing up to one year in jail and/or fines. If it is your first misdemeanor charge, you likely don't know what to expect in the coming days, weeks, or months. It is crucial that you familiarize yourself with the process surrounding your charge and your case in order to best prepare your defense. Even if you have had prior encounters with law enforcement, you need to be properly represented throughout this process. The attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC have your best interests in mind. We want to make sure you have all of the information you need throughout the entire process and we want to help you prepare the best defense strategy possible. We have laid out each stage of your misdemeanor case, from the initial charge until the sentencing hearing. Make sure that you have all of the necessary information and the best criminal defense attorneys by your side - choose Blair & Kim, PLLC.

Charging of Criminal Offenses

Misdemeanor criminal charges are generally initiated in one of two ways: either the prosecutor files a formal complaint with the court or a law enforcement officer serves a citation and notice to appear directly on the defendant.

Arraignment

The arraignment is the beginning of the criminal case. At your arraignment the judge will advise you of the maximum penalty, minimum penalties and your trial rights. You will be asked your name and asked to enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.” You will also be asked to decide between a “bench” or “judge” trial, or a “jury trial.” You should enter a plea of “not guilty” and ask for a jury trial in order to preserve all of your rights until you have had an opportunity to retain an attorney.

In some instances, your defense attorney can waive your arraignment and enter your not guilty plea administratively. This is done to avoid an additional court appearance and can be done on most cases that are not domestic violence or DUI.

At the arraignment the judge will decide whether you will be released on your personal recognizance or whether bail will be set. The judge will also decide whether any conditions should be imposed while your case is pending.

If the court imposes bail you can typically post cash or bond. If you choose to post cash, then you must go to the courthouse and pay the full amount of the set bail in cash - checks are not usually accepted. If you don't have the funds to post bail in full, then you can post a bond. A bond requires that the defendant provide some form of collateral to a third party who will pay the full amount of the bail on the defendant's behalf.

The conditions that could be imposed will depend on your individual case.The conditions can include not driving after having consumed any alcohol, not consuming alcohol or non-prescribed medications, not driving unless you are properly licensed and insured, AA meetings, or installation of an interlock device. On domestic violence cases, the court can order a “no contact order.” This would prohibit the accused from having any contact with the alleged victim in the case. Not all of these conditions will be imposed in every case. The conditions that will be imposed in your case will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case.

The judge or the court staff will then give you your next court date. Your next court date is typically called a pretrial hearing.

Pretrial or Readiness Hearing

Your pretrial hearing is scheduled at the time of your arraignment. By this time, your attorney has thoroughly reviewed the “discovery” or police reports in your case. The purpose of the pretrial hearing is to give the prosecutor and your attorney an opportunity to discuss the case and make sure that the prosecutor has provided all of the necessary information. Plea bargains can be discussed at this time as well.

Very often, your pretrial hearing will be continued to another date. There can be many reasons to continue your pretrial hearing. Typically, an attorney will continue a pretrial hearing to obtain additional information, such as missing police reports, medical evidence, police video tapes, interview witnesses, alcohol evaluations, and to complete the defense investigation or to continue negotiations.

If a continuance is not needed in your case and there is no plea bargain, the next hearing is your motions hearing.

Motions Hearing

A motions hearing is a hearing in front of the judge with the prosecutor present where your attorney can legally challenge the prosecutor's evidence in your case by bringing a motion. There are many different motions that an attorney can bring and that decision will depend on the facts and circumstances of your individual case. These motions may include, but are not limited to, challenges to the stopping of your car, challenges to any statements that you may have made or challenges to any 911 calls. The purpose of the motion is to exclude various pieces of evidence that the prosecutor will use to try and convict you of the offense.

If your attorney is successful in litigating these motions and the evidence is suppressed or excluded, it can result in the dismissal of the charges or a more favorable plea bargain offer. If the charges are not dismissed or no acceptable plea bargain has been reached, your case will usually be scheduled for trial. Just before your trial date, the court will typically schedule a “readiness” hearing.

Readiness or Jury Call Hearing

A readiness hearing is a hearing in front of the judge with the prosecutor present where the parties decide whether the case will go to trial, whether it will be continued, or whether a plea bargain will be reached. Often times, the readiness will be continued if the prosecutor or the defense is not ready due to the unavailability of one or more witnesses, any ongoing negotiations, or any additional information or investigation that is needed. If all of the parties are ready for trial, the judge will typically assign a date and time for the trial.

Trial

A misdemeanor trial can last anywhere from 1 to 4 days, depending on the number of witnesses and the complexity of the case. Additional motions may be brought at this time depending on the facts of your case.

The first step is jury selection, commonly known as “voir dire.” During this phase of the trial, both attorneys are given time to directly question prospective jurors regarding their ability to serve; questions are typically aimed at routing out those individuals who may be swayed by prior personal experience, prejudice, or media coverage of the alleged crime. The prosecutor and the defense attorney have the right to excuse any juror who cannot be fair and impartial. These are called challenges "for cause.” There is no limit to the number of challenges for cause that each side may exercise (bearing in mind that the court must make its own finding and rule in favor of your challenge).

After the jury is selected, the prosecutor gives their opening statement. This is a summary of the anticipated evidence. Your attorney can also give an opening statement at this time or he can wait until the defense case begins.

The prosecutor presents their case by calling witnesses. The defense is allowed to questions the prosecution's witnesses through a process called “cross examination.” After the prosecution has presented all of their evidence, they conclude their case by “resting.” The defense can then present their evidence, if they so choose. The defense is not required to present any evidence and can simply rely on the lack of proof or inadequacy of the prosecution's case.

Once both sides have had the opportunity to present their case, the trial judge will give instructions to the jurors. These instructions provide a legal framework for jurors to follow during their deliberations. Once the jury receives its instructions, the prosecution and the defense deliver closing arguments to the jury. The parties are generally given broad discretion during their closing to argue any reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence presented during the trial. At the conclusion of closing arguments, the jury begins deliberation, Deliberation can last anywhere from a few minutes to multiple days, depending on the jury. The jury can vote to acquit, convict or be deadlocked (unable to reach a unanimous verdict).

If you are acquitted, you are discharged from any further obligation to the court. If you are convicted, the next step will be sentencing, which can take place after the trial or on a different date. If the jury is deadlocked, the prosecutor could dismiss the case, retry the case or offer a more favorable plea bargain.

Sentencing

The sentencing hearing is where the judge imposes your penalty. This will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case, but in certain circumstances (for instance, DUI) there are mandatory minimum sentences that must be imposed.