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What Happens in a Misdemeanor Case

Misdemeanors are primarily offenses with a maximum punishment of a $1,000 fine and a county jail term of 1 year or less. However, there are some offenses which exceed this general criteria; for example, spousal abuse can carry a higher maximum fine. Examples of a misdemeanor violation are: shoplifting (depending upon the value of merchandise), prostitution, vandalism, and driving under the influence.

The processing of a misdemeanor is as follows:

An arrest is made - police take the defendant to jail (or released on signed citation in the field). If the defendant is arrested and given a date to appear in court, three things can happen:
  • The defendant is released - no charges are filed
  • The defendant posts bail or is released on his own recognizance ("OR") and is scheduled for arraignment
  • The defendant remains in custody of the Sheriff /law enforcement agency and is brought to Court for arraignment

Arraignment & Plea - defendant is brought to court

  • Defendant informed of charges
  • Defendant is informed of his/her constitutional rights
  • An attorney is retained by the defendant. If the defendant wishes to have an attorney but cannot afford one of his/her choice, the Court may appoint one.
  • Bail is set by the Court. Defendant released on "own recognizance", or remains in custody if unable to post bail.
OR
  • Defendant enters a plea - not guilty, guilty, no contest
    • Not Guilty - the defendant states that he/she did not commit the crime. The case is set for a future event.
    • Guilty or No Contest
      • Guilty - the defendant admits that he/she did commit the crime
      • No Contest- the defendant will not contest the charge. It has the same effect as a guilty plea except that the conviction cannot be used against the defendant in a civil suit.
        • The case is resolved at time of arraignment. This will include any fines/fees and court-ordered programs imposed by the judge.

Pre-Trial Proceedings (Upon not guilty plea)

  • Discovery exchange
  • Motions may be filed to set aside the complaint, to dismiss the case, or to suppress evidence, etc.
  • Defendant may change his/her plea to guilty or no-contest

Jury Trial

  • Jury is selected
  • Witnesses testify
  • Jury decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty
    • If not guilty, the defendant is released and cannot be tried again for the same crime.
    • If guilty: Sentenced to Jail/Probation/other conditions
    • Appeal - The defendant can appeal to the Appellate Department of the Superior Court

Court Trial

  • Witnesses testify
  • Judge decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty
    • If not guilty, the defendant is released and cannot be tried again for the same crime.
    • If guilty: Sentenced to Jail/Probation/other conditions
    • Appeal - The defendant can appeal to the Appellate Department of the Superior Court.
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