Stages of a Misdemeanor Case
Although relatively less serious than a felony, a misdemeanor charge should not be taken lightly. Misdemeanor offenses can mean fines and fees in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, or it can mean time in jail. In addition to those, there can also be other collateral consequences of a misdemeanor conviction. For example, a conviction for any “domestic violence” offense could affect your right to possess a firearm for the rest of your life. A conviction for misdemeanor possession of marijuana or other drugs can cause a student to loose or become ineligible for federal financial aide. Misdemeanor convictions can also affect immigration and naturalization status and result in deportation or exclusion from the United States. A conviction for DWI, even a first offense, carries with it a public stigma that can hang with you for the rest of your life, affect your ability to obtain employment, hold a security clearance, and will result in higher car insurance rates. The stakes with a misdemeanor offense are higher than you might think.
Misdemeanor Criminal Defense Procedure:
A misdemeanor criminal case will generally go through the following phases:
- Investigation – During the investigation phase, the police will investigate a suspected violation of the criminal laws. This may be as simple as seeing someone run a light and stopping them or may be more complex like a DWI investigation which involves personal observations, field sobriety tests, breath machines, scientific evidence, and interrogation tactics.
- Arrest/Filing Criminal Complaint – At some point an officer may make an arrest or charging decision. They may, correctly or wrongly, decide to charge someone with a criminal offense. Usually this is done by writing a citation (e.g. traffic ticket), issuing a criminal summons (mailed to a defendant), or filing a criminal complaint with the court after arresting someone. The citation, summons, or complaint is supposed to provide notice to the defendant as to why they have been charged, what they are accused of, and who has charged them.
- Arraignment – At the arraignment setting the judge will review the criminal complaint, advise you of the charges against you, the possible penalties for those charges, and ask you to enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest). If you enter a plea of guilty or no contest, the judge may sentence you right then and there, or may reset you for a later date to return for sentencing. If a plea of not guilty is entered, then your conditions of release pending trial will be set. Conditions of release can include, a simple promise by you to come back to court, requiring a money bond to be posted with the court or through a bonding company, a third-party release to family member on their promise to make sure you show up to court, or a property bond. In deciding conditions of release, the court will consider things like; criminal history, ties to the community, the nature of the pending allegations, and the danger presented to the community by having a defendant out of custody.
- Discovery – Discovery is the stage where the parties exchange information. Because of the power and resources of the State, the prosecutor has a variety of obligations to provide information to the defendant. Also, under the rules, you may also have a right to interview the witnesses to be called against you.
- Trial – You have a right to a trial on the charges brought against you. You may have a trial before a judge or, depending on how you were charged, you may have a right to a trial before a jury. Whether to go to trial or whether to have a bench or jury trial is one of the most important decisions you will have to make.
- Appeal – If your case went to trial or if you reserved an issue for appeal by special plea agreement, you may wish to pursue an appeal. Appeals from the metropolitan court, municipal court, or magistrate court can involve an appeal de novo (new trial on appeal) or a record appeal (appeal just based on the records and recording of the prior trial) depending on the type of case and court in which it was heard.