Most people, fortunately, don’t have a lot of experience dealing with the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, if you find yourself in a situation where this blog post is relevant to you, you either have gotten caught up in that system, or someone close to you has. If so, you likely have a lot of questions, and one of the first ones is a straightforward one – what happens now?
Where you go after an arrest varies depending on what you are charged with. A nonviolent misdemeanor is different from a felony level offense. This post will give a general overview of both, however, if you have been arrested, or someone close to you has, the first thing you should do is close this blog and call an experienced criminal defense attorney. Then, of course, come back to this page.
If you are arrested for a nonviolent misdemeanor, the first step is getting out of jail. You will likely have a charge that you can bond out for right away without having to go before a judge, and the jail likely has a set amount for your charge to get out. However, if you have a misdemeanor that has a victim, like a domestic violence, assault, or menacing, you will have to see a judge. The reason for this is that the Court will likely be considering putting a no-contact condition with the victim, or victims, as a part of your bond. That is a standard condition for any violent offense and will likely be imposed unless that alleged victim informs the Court and the State that they do not want that condition in place. Even then, though, it may still be ordered.
If you are arrested for a felony, you will not be able to bond out immediately. For felony offenses, you will have to have your bond set by a judge. They may release you on a “personal recognizance” bond, meaning you don’t have to pay anything to get out, or the Judge may require that you pay some amount of money to be released. They may also impose condition you have to follow if you are released. For example, if there allegations of alcohol being involved in the incident that led to your arrest the Judge may order you to not go to bars or liquor stores, or may order you not to drink at all and can order that you be monitored for alcohol consumption. If it is a drug charge, they may order you to be monitored to ensure you aren’t using while on bond. You will always be ordered to appear for court as required, and to ensure you do so the Judge may even go so far as to order you not to leave the State without permission from the Court to do so.
After that, your first court appearance on any misdemeanor will be an initial appearance. At this hearing, you will either plead guilty or not guilty. If you are facing felony charges, your first court appearance after the bond hearing will be a preliminary hearing. This is a probable cause hearing where the State must show the Court that there is probable cause to continue to proceed with the charges against you. A bit of warning for these hearings, probable cause is a very low standard for the State to meet and the rules of evidence don’t apply (meaning they can use hearsay testimony or other evidence that is ordinarily inadmissible to meet that burden). Because of this, Defendant’s rarely win preliminary hearings. If the Court finds probable cause, you move into the arraignment portion of your case, where you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
During this process, your attorney will also begin receiving discovery in your case. “Discovery” is the evidence that the State has related to your case an includes things like police reports, witness statements, dashcam videos, bodycam videos, medical records, test results, and any other evidence that the State has. As that evidence comes in, your attorney will review it for possible motions to write in your case. Motions are used to keep certain pieces of evidence out of your case (called Motions to Suppress), to dismiss charges against you, and other procedural motions, such as motions to compel if the State isn’t fully providing the discovery as required. Motions are an important part of your case, and in some situations can be the difference between a conviction and a dismissal.
Your attorney will also be communicating with the prosecutor in your case to see what, if any, deals they are willing to offer to resolve your case. That may be asking for a lesser charge, no jail time, doing treatment instead of serving time in custody, and any number of other possible outcomes. Your lawyer will also communicate with you to find out what your thoughts are on a possible deal, what you are willing to accept, and what the best course of action is in your case.
Your next court date is a Pretrial Conference. At this hearing, you will be checking in with the Judge to let them know if you have a deal in place or not. As that court date approaches, negotiations often start to speed up and some important decisions must be made. Are you willing to accept the offers that are coming in? What counteroffers should you make? How strong is the case against you? What are your chances at trial if you chose to do that? What are the risks of going to trial, and are those risks worth it? These are important decisions, and you will want to speak with your lawyer frequently and in great detail to decide your best option.
After the pretrial conference, you are on one of two paths – either the case is resolved and you are preparing to wrap it up and setting up what is needed to follow the agreement or you are preparing to go to trial. If you are going to trial, the time leading up to that will be filled with discussion about strategy at trial – are you going to testify on your own behalf or remain silent? What are the issues you need to address at trial and how is that going to be done? What exhibits should be used? What evidence is the State going to offer? How are you going to push back against their evidence?
Finally, the last court date in your case, if you reach this point, is the trial. That starts with jury selection, then on to opening statements. After that, the State presents their case, you will present any evidence and testimony in your defense, and then the State has the opportunity to present evidence to rebut your case. Finally, there are closing arguments and then the jury will retire to deliberate their verdict.
However your case plays out, as you can see there are a lot of steps along the way to get to the end of it. It can be confusing, overwhelming, and anxiety inducing to try to go through on your own. The best way to navigate this system is to find an experienced attorney to walk you through it. If you or someone you care about has found yourself having to face this system, call Curran Law Firm today and get an experienced attorney to help fight for you.