QUICK GUIDE: ARREST, JAIL, AND THE COURT PROCESS
What happens after you're arrested?
It depends on where you’re charged, what crime you are charged with and whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony.
On a misdemeanor case, if you’re in District court, the first thing that’s going to happen is you're going to jail and will be brought up in-front of a judge to set bond this will happen relatively quickly, usually within 48 hours.
At that first appearance, not a lot is going to happen. The judge is going to make sure that you know what you are charged with. You will be given a bond and there will be time to argue your bond. If you have some sort of a problem with bond, perhaps there is a condition that is unwarranted or unfair that’s the time that you can ask the judge to modify the problem bond condition. With misdemeanors, first appearance is also the time you’re going to be arraigned. Arraignment is the formal process of asking you how you plead to the charges. After that, you’re going to have another scheduled appearance, which is called a scheduling docket or a no-go docket. A no-go docket is kind of an arbitrary court date to make sure your case keeps moving.
What happens after first appearance/arraignment?
Your case is going to get set over to a scheduling docket, a scheduling or a no-go docket may happen two or three times depending on what you’re doing with your case. If you need time to get money to hire a lawyer, you’re going to keep going in and they are going to keep scheduling it, again and again. After you get through that and hire a lawyer that’s when your case is really going to start.
During the first stages of the case, you will hire a lawyer. That lawyer will request a discovery – police reports, videos, anything that the police have or the state has which they are going to use against you, and the attorney will go over it with you. Then you’ll have a good idea whether the State can prove their case or not and you’ll start working on a defense plan. After you develope your plan of attacking the case, a lot of different things can happen.
What happens after you’ve obtained discovery?
It depends on the evidence in your case and your case strategy. A lot of things can happen. You may have a motions hearing. For example, if you found evidence in the case you’re trying to suppress or if the state is not giving you all the evidence and you want to compel them to, there are probably 50 different things that can happen at this time. During this, "meat and potatoes" part of the case, your lawyer is working up the case you are going through all these different court dates, your lawyer is also going to be talking to the prosecutor about any plea offer. At some point the prosecutor may come to your lawyer and say, “Oh, the case isn’t that good. We’re willing to offer you a lower charge or a lesser sentence or some plea offer that might make sense to consider.
At any time during all these court dates, the case can stop being litigated because you come to a plea agreement that you’re happy with. If that happens, then you will just schedule a plea date. On a misdemeanor case, you will do sentencing on that same day. If you can’t get a plea worked out during that time or the case doesn’t get dismissed, that’s when you will end up going to trial.
What happens if your case is going to trial?
Before trial, you have a pretrial conference in which the State and your lawyer are trying to hash out all the details of what’s going to happen at trial, submit jury instructions and other preliminary matters. Eventually you’ll have your actual day in court. Your trial in court is going to be either a jury trial or a bench trial.
At a jury trial, part of the day is going to be going through “Voir Dire” and making sure that you get the right jury selected. Following jury selection, the attorneys are going to do their opening statements. The State is always going to go first in presenting evidence during this time, your lawyer may want to cross-examine witnesses et cetra. Once the State rests their case, your lawyer will present any evidence that helps your case. At the end of your lawyer presenting evidence, the lawyers will proceed to have closing arguments. At this point the the judge will read jury instructions to the jury and submit the case to the jury.
What happens after trial?
Shortly after the case is submitted to the jury, the jury is going to deliberate, or in a bench trial, the judge is going to deliberate and make his/her decision. After that’s all done, if you’re acquitted, then obviously nothing else happens. You’re free to go and you’re not guilty; if you’re found guilty, then you’ll have another day when you come back and do sentencing in which you receive a punishment.
Do Felony cases have a different process?
The process is similar as far as felonies go, there are just a few added steps. When you are charged with a felony, you’re entitled to a preliminary hearing. How a felony case works, is you’ll go for the first appearance, then to the no-go scheduling dockets, during those first couple of settings you will get the evidence against you, talk about any possibility of plea deal and then you have a preliminary examination.
A preliminary examination is unique to a felony. It’s like a little mini trial, in which the State has a burden of proving probable cause. It is a very low standard of proof. It’s akin to a screening tool to make sure cases that have absolutely no business in the court go away sooner rather than later.
Apart from this difference, the process is very similar to a misdemeanor case as described above. The only other real difference would be if you did a plea and sentencing, or are found guilty, there are additional steps before you can be sentenced on a felony. In that case, they have to run a presentence investigation, which is basically a criminal history report. They also have to do an LSI-R which is a way of evaluating a person’s amenability to being in custody and what level of supervision that person should be on. Barring those three exceptions, it’s very similar to the misdemeanor case.
Is municipal court different?
When you move into the realm of Municipal Court, the process really varies quite a bit depending on the court. For example, in most municipal courts you don't get arrested and put in jail for a municipal offense, you get issued a ticket. Most of the time when you go to a municipal court, you’re in a lot less trouble than you are if you are in District Court. In the District Court, on any felony appearance, you are required to be there. On misdemeanor cases, in the District Court and in the Municipal Court, most of the time you’re not required to be at court so long as you have a lawyer hired that shows up to court for you; only with a few exceptions such as trial, plea and sentencing.
At other times, the benefit of being in Municipal Court is your lawyer can go for you. Your lawyer is going to be working the case and you’re going to be a lot more hands off. At a municipal court you don't have some of the same rights as you do in District Court, the good thing about being in Municipal Court is that if you don’t feel you got a fair shake, at the end of the entire process, you can appeal. You can go to the District Court and you can enjoy the all the rights and privileges you are afforded by the constitution.