Steps of a Misdemeanor Case
Whether it's your first time being charged with a crime or you're just curious as to how the process works, this guide will take you through how a misdemeanor criminal prosecution in Monroe County begins and the stages that follow.
- Crime/Investigation - Before there can be any arrests or prosecutions, a crime must occur. The police are called to investigate and based upon their findings, they will decide if a crime has occurred. Sometimes the police have enough information to make an arrest at the scene and other times they do not. Maybe the suspect wasn't there to be questioned or a more thorough investigation was needed to determine what happened and who was involved. When the police believe that they have enough evidence, they will ask the prosecutor's office to authorize a complaint.
- Arrest - The suspect is arrested and becomes a criminal defendant once charges are formally filed by the prosecutor's office. The suspect is arrested at the scene or when the police have obtained an arrest warrant based on probable cause following an investigation.
- Arraignment - This occurs at the District Court and is the first time you will see either a judge or magistrate. You will be informed of the charges against you. The judge will inform you that you have the right to an attorney at public expense or reduced cost if you cannot afford one. If you request a court-appointed attorney, you will need to complete some paperwork regarding your finances to determine if you are eligible.
- Pretrial Hearing- This is the first court hearing after the arraignment. This is a meeting between your lawyer and the prosecutor to discuss your case and possible resolutions without going to trial. If there are discovery issues or motions that need to be filed, your case may be set for a second pre-trial. If there is no resolution reached at this stage, the case will be set for trial. If the case is resolved with a plea, the case will proceed to sentencing.
- If the case is to be resolved with a plea agreement, the judge will explain to you the charge you are pleading to, and the maximum penalty for the charge. The judge will then explain your rights if you take your case to trial. You will be asked if you understand that you are giving up your rights by pleading guilty. The full offer in your case will then be placed on the record by the Judge. Next, the Judge will ask you questions regarding your plea to make sure your plea was your choice and that no additional offers were made. You will then tell the court what you did that makes you guilty. In the case of a no contest plea, the Judge will review documents to determine what occurred. The Judge will most likely accept your plea and you will then proceed to the sentencing phase.
- Trial - You will have the choice of either having a trial by jury or a trial by judge. You always have a right to a jury trial. If you wish to waive your right to a jury trial, the prosecutor must agree.
- Jury Selection - The process begins with jury selection where both the prosecution and defense counsel ask questions to potential jurors to determine their suitability for the jury. Once a full jury has been placed, the trial will begin. Potential jurors are residents of Monroe County.
- Opening Statements - The prosecution begins their case with their opening statement. The defense has the option of presenting an opening statement after the prosecution or they can wait until their side of the case begins. Opening statements are a preview of the case. The lawyers tell the jury what evidence they believe will be presented at trial and what the evidence will show.
- Prosecution's Case - The prosecution will then begin their case by calling witnesses and presenting evidence against the defendant. The defense will have an opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses and make challenges to the evidence. After the prosecution is done presenting evidence and calling witnesses, the defense has an opportunity to present their case if they choose to.
- Defense Case - The defense will usually start by making a motion for "directed verdict," which means that the prosecution has not met their burden of proof and the case is so lopsided in favor of the defendant, the judge should automatically enter a verdict in favor of the defendant without the case preceding any farther. Usually the motion is denied. The defense will then present their case where they call witnesses and present evidence and the prosecution has the chance to cross-examine those witnesses and challenge the evidence just as the defense did against the prosecution. In some cases, the defense will not call any witnesses. After the defense rests their case, the prosecutor can then call "rebuttal witnesses" to refute or contradict what the defense witnesses said.
- Closing Arguments - Once the defense is finished presenting their case, and/or the prosecution has presented their rebuttal witnesses, the trial concludes with closing arguments. This is where the lawyers argue to the jury what they believe the evidence presented at trial proved. Again, the prosecution has the chance to rebut the defense's argument and get in the last word because they have the burden of proof. Once arguments are done, the case is submitted to the jury and deliberations begin.
- Sentencing - If you are found not guilty or if the jury cannot agree on a verdict, the case has concluded and you are free to go. If the jury finds you guilty, or you have agreed to a plea before trial, the next phase will be sentencing. Prior to sentencing, the probation department will arrange a meeting with you and ask you a series of questions about your background, life, and previous criminal history if any. In their report they will make a recommendation as to what sentence you should receive. That gives the Judge information to use to consider your sentence. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, the probation department may or may not prepare a pre-sentence report. It depends on what the misdemeanor is and if you have any prior criminal history.
- Appeals - After either your guilty plea or conviction, you can appeal the decision if you believe you were treated unfairly or improperly. Sometimes you have an automatic right to appeal, but most of the time, the appeals court has discretion on whether or not to accept your appeal. If you are convicted at trial, you have an automatic right to appeal. If you are convicted with a plea, you give up an automatic right to an appeal and the Circuit Court has the option of granting or declining your appeal.