What Happens In A Misdemeanor Case

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Not every step is taken in every case. In fact, many cases are resolved before they reach trial. Even so, you may wish to know all the steps that the case in which you are involved might go through. If you have any questions about the steps involved in a misdemeanor case, ask your Right Law Group Lawyer to explain them to you.

1. Initiating Charges by Criminal Complaints, Summons, or by Arrest Very often misdemeanor cases begin with the law enforcement officer issuing a summons. The summons describes the charge against the defendant and gives a date for the person to appear in court. If someone fails to go to court on the date listed on the summons, a warrant will issue for the person failing to appear. Some misdemeanor cases begin when the District Attorney, working with a law enforcement officer, files a criminal complaint before a Judge. This complaint is a statement, under oath, of facts sufficient to support probable cause to believe that an offense against the laws Colorado has been committed by a defendant. If the Judge accepts the complaint, a summons or arrest warrant will be issued for the defendant. In some cases, the defendant may have been arrested without a warrant, in which case the defendant is required to appear before a Judge and the DA will give the defendant the charges in court.

2. The Initial Appearance This is a defendant's first hearing after being arrested or summoned to court. It takes place before a County Court Judge. Usually this hearing is held within a few days of the arrest if the person is arrested. If the person is given a summons for this date, the first appearance can be weeks or even months after the summons is issued. Witnesses are not needed for testimony at this hearing. The hearing has three purposes. First, the defendant is told his or her rights and the charges are explained. Second, the defendant is assisted in making arrangements for legal representation, by appointment of an attorney by the court, if they have not already done so. Third, the court determines if the defendant can be safely released on bail if the person was arrested and being held in jail.

3. Pre-Trial This is a date at which the defense and prosecution discuss the case and make a decision on whether they will be negotiating a plea offer or whether the case will be set for trial. Usually when someone is represented by an attorney, they do not have to do anything during this date other than appear. The Attorney will talk with the prosecutor about the facts of the case and try to negotiate a reasonable plea offer. If the parties cannot agree on a plea offer, then the attorneys will tell the court that they are setting the case for trial. When a case is set for trial, the defendant has the right to have their case tried within 6 months of setting the trial.

4. Hearings on Motions Before a trial, the court may hear motions made by the defendant and his/her defense attorney or the District Attorney. These may include motions to suppress evidence, to compel discovery, or to resolve other legal questions. In most cases, lay witnesses are not needed at the motions hearing. Generally the District Attorney only subpoenas law enforcement witnesses if any at all. If a witness is needed at this hearing, (s)he will receive a notice from the District Attorney Office or the Defense depending on who is requesting that witness's appearance.

5. The Status Conference When a trial is set, most Judges will have what they call a Status or Pre-Trial Readiness Conference before the actual date of the trial. This can be set anywhere from one day to a few months before the trial is set to begin. This court hearing is the time at which the District Attorney and the Defense tell the Judge whether they are ready to proceed to trial and discuss any issues that may need to be address before trial. Usually, the only time a side would not be ready for trial is if one of their witnesses are unavailable for the dates that are set, or if there is more evidence that needs to be collected or given to the other side. Most District Court Judges will give each side at least one continuance or resetting of trial, but they do not allow attorneys to repeatedly announce "not ready" for trial and keep seeking continuances without very good reason.If both sides announce ready at the status conference, then the Court confirms the date of the trial and advises both sides to be prepared to go to trial on the set date.

6. Trial Trials don't always go on as scheduled. Sometimes issues come up that either cause the trial to be delayed, or other trials are also set on the same day and the Judge has to make a decision on which case gets to go that day and the other case will be rescheduled. Although all of the witnesses for trial appear early in the day, most must wait for some period of time to be called to the courtroom to give their testimony. A misdemeanor trial follows the same pattern as the trial of any other criminal case before the court. The prosecution and the defense first select a jury through a process called "voir dire" or jury selection. Once a jury has been selected, both sides have an opportunity to make an opening statement, then the District Attorney will present the case for the People of the State of Colorado. Each witness that is called for the District Attorney may be cross-examined by the defendant or the defendant's counsel. When the prosecution has rested its case, the defense then has an opportunity to present its side of the case. The District Attorney may then cross-examine the defendant's witnesses. When both sides have rested, the prosecution and the defense have an opportunity to argue the merits of the case to the jury, in what is called a closing argument. The jury will then make findings and deliver a verdict of guilty or not guilty of the offense charged.

7. Sentencing In a criminal case, if the defendant is convicted, the judge will set a time for sentencing. In a misdemeanor case, sentencing can happen on it's own date, or it can be done immediately after a conviction from a trial or after a defendant tells the court he/she wishes to accept a plea offer. At the time of sentencing, the judge will consider both favorable and unfavorable facts about the defendant before determining the appropriate sentence to impose. The function of imposing sentence is exclusively that of the judge. In some cases, (s)he has a wide range of alternatives to consider and may place the defendant on probation, or place the defendant in jail for a specific period of time, or impose a fine, or formulate a sentence involving a combination of these sanctions. The court will also consider requiring the defendant to make restitution to victims who have suffered physical or financial damage as a result of the crime. Victims and witnesses may attend the sentencing proceedings and may also have the opportunity to address the court at this time.

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