HOW A MISDEMEANOR GENERALLY MOVES THROUGHOUT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Arraignment is typically scheduled within 30 days from the date of the violation. Arraignment is a criminal proceeding where the charges are read to the defendant and the defendant has an opportunity to plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest. The defendant is advised of his/her rights, the range of the sentence the defendant could face for those charges and determine whether the defendant wants an attorney. The judge will not hear any testimony from witnesses and the judge will not have the authority to dismiss any criminal charge.
(a) Plea of Not Guilty – A plea of not guilty means that you are informing the Court that you deny guilt and that the State must prove the criminal charges against you.
(b) Plea of Guilty – A plea of guilty means that you are admitting that you committed the act you are being charged with, that you do not have any legal defense for your actions and that your actions were illegal. If you plead guilty, it is very difficult to change your plead at a later date. A judge will typically sentence you at the time you plead guilty.
(c) Plea of No Contest – A plea of no context means that while you do not admit that you are guilty of committing the alleged crime, you do not want to contest the charge at trial. A plea of contest can result in a criminal conviction that will remain on your criminal record.
(2) Pretrial Conference:
After arraignment the Court will typically order a pretrial conference. At the pretrial conference, the defendant will be given an opportunity to meet the prosecutor and review the “discovery.” Discovery entails the police report and any other evidence that the State intends to use against the defendant. The State MUST disclose the names of all witnesses that it intends to use at trial, all of the exhibits that it intends to use at trial and any other evidence that the State intends to use at trial. The pretrial conference provides the defendant with the opportunity to review the case and to discuss the case with the prosecutor. Please be advised, however, that no testimony is taken and witnesses will not be called at a pretrial conference. The State may offer a plea agreement to the defendant at the pretrial conference. If the defendant accepts the plea, the defendant can enter into a change of plea at the hearing. If no plea agreement is reached, the Judge will either set the case for trial or for additional hearings as needed.
A criminal defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is the State’s burden to prove that the defendant committed the crime; it is not the burden of the defendant to prove his/her innocence. The State must prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; it is not enough to show that the defendant more likely that not committed the crime. The State must prove guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.
State’s Case-in-chief: The State presents its case first and will present in its case in chief all witnesses and exhibits. The State will typically call witnesses such as police officers, eye-witnesses to the incident, forensic experts, among others. After the State presents each witness, the defendant will have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Once the State’s presents all of its evidence, the State will advise the judge and the jury that the state rests its case.
After the state presents its case: The Defendant will typically move for an acquittal of the action. The defendant will argue that based on the evidence that the State has presented, it has failed to meet its burden and that the case should be dismissed. If the case is not dismissed, the defendant then has an opportunity to present its case-in-chief
Defendant’s case-in-chief: During the defendant’s case in chief, the defendant is provided the opportunity to present all of his/her witnesses and exhibits, subject to the rules of evidence. The defendant has the right to testify on his/her behalf at trial, however, the defendant does not have to testify. The decision to testify is a strategic and complicated issue. While it may be beneficial to testify, the State will be allowed to cross-examine the defendant if he/she testifies.
If a defendant is found guilty, the judge will sentence the defendant. There is an array of possible sentences for the different types of crimes. For some criminal charges, there are mandatory minimum sentences. The Judge will consider the State’s recommendation, any prior criminal history, the level of property damage or harm, any financial hardship, the victim’s recommendation, among other factors.