What happens at each court date?
The legal system is very complex, which can leave you feeling frustrated and confused. Many people think their case will be finished after the first court date, but there are actually a series of court appearances that take place before most cases are resolved. Some of these court dates are more important then others and require you to make critical decisions that can affect the rest of your life. It is imperative that you know what to expect at each stage of your case. You can review the information below or contact us to learn more.
After you are arrested you will go in front of a judge within 24 hours. The judge will inform you of what charge you have been arrested for and will set a bond if one has not already been set. This is not the time to argue your case. In fact, anything you say may be recorded and can be used against you, so it is recommended that you not say anything. You will receive another court date and that will give you time to talk with an attorney about your case.
This is still not the time to argue your case. You simply enter a plea of guilty or of not guilty. If you enter a plea of guilty, you will be sentenced and the charge will go on your record. If you enter a plea of not guilty then you simply get your next court date. An attorney can enter a written plea of not guilty on your behalf and waive your arraignment.
This is a meeting between your attorney, the judge and the prosecutor. The judge will want to know what the status of the case is and how everyone wants to proceed. The case may be set for a trial, or it could be set for a hearing on a motion, or be continued to another pretrial conference.
The prosecutor and your attorney ask questions of prospective jurors. If either side wants to get rid of a possible juror, then that person is stricken from the panel. If neither side strikes the person then that person stays on the jury. The idea is that whoever is left will be impartial and fair to both sides.
Trial beings by each side making an opening statement. Then the prosecutor puts on his side of the case. He calls his witness and the defense attorney can ask them questions as well. When the prosecutor is done with his case, the defense can call any witnesses with relevant information that might help their case. When both sides are done, they will each make a closing argument to the jury. At the conclusion of the case, the jury will deliberate and must decide if the prosecutor proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt. You don't have to prove that you are not guilty, the prosecutor must prove that you commited the crime. If the Jury comes back not guilty then you receive no punishment. If the jury comes back guilty, then the judge will sentence you.
If the jury returns a guilty verdict then the judge can sentence you up to the maximum that the charge carries, which is based on the degree of the charge. The sentencing is often right after verdict, but in some cases it is set off for a later date. This is usually preferable because it can give the defense more time to bring in witnesses and prepare a sentencing memorandum.