What Happpens At Court?
Difference Between Misdemeanors And Felonies:
Misdemeanors are charges that may lead at most to a county jail sentence. Some misdemeanors are punishable by only a fine. Felonies may lead to state prison. Some charges are known as “wobblers” – they may be charged either as misdemeanors or felonies.
The first court appearance is known as the arraignment. Arraignment is when the judge tells you what charges have been filed against you and the deputy district attorney hands over the police reports in your case. In most cases, if you have an attorney, you do not have to go to court for the arraignment your attorney can appear for you. The exception to this rule is a domestic violence case. Judges require defendant’s to appear so orders to stay away from victims may be made directly to the defendant.
At the arraignment, the case is usually continued for a pretrial – conference. This is when the judge, district attorney and your attorney meet and discuss the facts of the case. Most cases are settled at this point.
The DA is the person who decides what charges he/she wants the defendant to plead to; the judge controls what the sentence will be. If no disposition is arrived at, then the case is set for jury trial. Sometimes you need to set cases for trial to force the DA or judge to be reasonable. Many cases are resolved on the eve of trial. As pointed out above – this is why a trial attorney is an important ingredient for mounting a strong defense.
Like misdemeanor cases – the first court appearance is known as the arraignment. Not guilty pleas are entered and a preliminary hearing is set – usually about two weeks later. At the preliminary hearing the DA must put on enough evidence to satisfy the judge that you are “probably” guilty of the charge. This of course is a lower burden on proof than what a jury must find to convict someone – “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Many felony cases are resolved before or at the preliminary hearing.
If the case does not settle and after hearing the evidence the judge finds that there is enough evidence to believe you are “probably guilty”, the case moves to the next level for trial purposes. Another arraignment date is set – along with a date for arguing motions such as a motion to suppress evidence.
Jury trials usually take two or more days and sometimes weeks or even months. Typically, trials last two to three days in misdemeanor cases. The vast majority of cases settle before trial.
A trial begins with jury selection. The jury is sworn in after both sides say they are satisfied with the group after hearing their answers to questions about their background – or after the sides have used up their 10 challenges.
The DA puts on his/her case first with the defense cross-examining the witnesses. Then the defense has the opportunity to put on its case. Sometimes the defendant testifies – sometimes not.
After the evidence is concluded, the attorneys argue the case to the jury: first the DA; then the defense; then the DA gets the final “rebuttal” (The theory is that because the DA has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, he/ she gets the last say). Finally the judge reads jury instructions to the jury and then they deliberate.