What Happens When I Have Been Charged With a Misdemeanor?

The procedures in court for misdemeanors are as follows.

The first court appearance is called an arraignment.  An arraignment is where your attorney goes into the courtroom, receives the discovery, which consists of the police reports concerning the accusations against the accused. The accused is referred to as the defendant. The clerk puts the file on the Judge’s desk.  The Judge calls the case and the attorney will do one of two things.  He will either continue the arraignment to another date or enter a plea of not guilty.

Once a not guilty plea is entered, the attorney will choose a future date which will act as a pre-trial conference date. The reason why the attorney enters a plea of not guilty is because it is going to take him time to review the reports and decide which is the best course of action for the defense of the client’s case.

In misdemeanor cases an attorney can appear for the defendant without the defendant’s  personal presence. This is called a 977(a) appearance.  In some cases, such as those concerning domestic violence,  judges are requiring the defendant to be present with his lawyer so the prosecution and the court can serve the defendant with a protective order. A protective order protects the alleged victim from any personal contact with the defendant

The arraignment process takes only a few minutes.

Once a future date is agreed upon, the attorney will take the discovery back to his office and review it for any possible legal or factual defenses.  The attorney will copy the reports and send them to his client if appropriate.  Many times the attorney will have the client set an office appointment so that they may review the discovery together.

The attorney will return to court on the prearranged pre-trial date and start the process of negotiating with the prosecutor concerning a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement or compromise which results in a settlement or resolution of the client’s case.  It may take numerous pre-trial appearances in order to reach some sort of viable resolution of the client’s case.

Generally for a misdemeanor, a settlement or resolution takes approximately 90-120 days. This period  will more than likely include numerous pre-trial conferences. Of course any plea bargain, settlement, compromise or agreement is subject to the client’s approval.

During these pre-trial conferences, the client does not have to be in court.  However, if the client wants to be at the pre-trial conferences they are more than welcome and in some cases it may be advantageous to have the client present.

In the event that a resolution of the case has been agreed upon the attorney will have the client fill out a plea form which will spell out the details and nature of the plea bargain. The attorney will thereafter submit the forms to the court. In some cases the court will require the plea form to be notarized.  Thereafter, the client will be given a letter containing detailed instructions as to what the client’s affirmative obligations to the court are.

Approximately 95% of all criminal misdemeanor cases are resolved in the plea bargain process.  In the event that the client’s case cannot be settled through this process, the client has the absolute  right to have their case proceed to trial.  A jury trial is where 12 people from the community,  will decide the guilt or innocence of the client.

At the client’s trial, the government’s case will be vigorously tested.  The client’s attorney will confront and cross-examine witnesses against the client to test the truthfulness and accuracy of their testimony.   The client’s attorney may provide witnesses and the client may choose to testify on their own behalf.  All twelve jurors must unanimously agree that the client committed each and every element of the crime or crimes that they are accused of.  If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the judge will declare a mistrial. In the event of a mistrial the government, if they choose and the judge allows, may bring charges against the client again and re-try the case.

If the client is found not guilty, he is released on the government’s charges and deemed to be exonerated.  In the event that the client is found guilty by the jury, the judge will determine what punishment is appropriate.