Felony Case Court Procedures

Step-By-Step Court Procedure
A felony is a crime that may be punishable by confinement for more than a year in a state prison. The steps through a felony case are as follows:
  • Initial Appearance: A defendant's first appearance in court. At this court appearance, the defendant is informed of the charges and penalties, bail is set and a date for a preliminary hearing is set.
  • Preliminary Hearing: A judge hears testimony at which time the (Asst) District Attorney must prove to the judge that there is enough evidence to believe the defendant committed a felony. If the judge feels there is enough evidence to have the defendant stand trial, the case continues and is "bound over" for trial.
  • Arraignment: The defendant pleads guilty, not guilty or no contest. If there is a plea of guilty or no contest, a date is set for the sentencing hearing. If the plea is not guilty, the retained defense attorney or pro se' defendant may request in writing discovery (reports) from the District Attorney's Office and the attorney or defendant will receive a letter of the State's sentencing recommendation (pretrial offer) for possible settlement and also receive a Pretrial notice to meet at the scheduled date and time with the prosecuting attorney to discuss the case further if necessary.
  • Motions: A verbal or written request that asks the judge to decide a legal question made by the prosecutor or the defense attorney before, during or after the trial.
  • Status Conference or Further Proceedings Hearing: A court hearing set to inform the Judge if the matter will be proceeding to trial or if an agreement has been reached, it could become a plea and sentencing hearing if there is not a victim involved in the case.
  • Trial: An official hearing in which either a jury (jury trial) or judge (bench trial) hears the facts of the case. Through physical evidence and testimony by witnesses, the prosecutor attempts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant's guilt. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge may sentence the defendant immediately or set the case for a sentencing hearing.
  • Sentencing: A court hearing in which the judge decides how to punish and rehabilitate the defendant. A sentencing hearing follows a plea of guilty or no contest plea or a finding of guilty by a jury or judge
Important Court Terms
  • Assistant District Attorney: An attorney who acts on the District Attorney's behalf.
  • Decline: The prosecuting attorney decides not to issue any criminal charges.
  • Dismissal: The charge or charges against the defendant are dismissed. No conviction.
  • District Attorney: Under state law, the prosecuting attorney who represents the state in each county.
  • Restitution: An amount of money set by the court to be paid to the victim of crime for property losses or injuries incurred by the crime.
  • Subpoena: A written order requiring a person to appear in court to testify. The subpoena states the date, time, place and proceeding at which the witness must appear.
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