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What happens in court?

All crimes whether felony or misdemeanor start in District Court. Misdemeanors are concluded in District Court whereas felonies are finished in Circuit Court. Naturally, felonies take longer to deal with than do misdemeanors, generally speaking, but this issue just like all others is evaluated on a case by case basis.

All matters start with an arraignment. In certain instances I will be able to have my clients arraignment waived by submitting a document to the court (when allowed). This is just one more day my client can avoid missing work just to spend it in court!

At the arraignment we will receive notice of the next court proceeding called the pre trial.

The pre-trial provides me an opportunity to get discovery material from the prosecutor. Discovery consists, generally speaking, of police reports, witness statements, diagrams, etc. Since myself, the client and the prosecutor are all ordered by the court to attend, we take the opportunity to review the discovery, evaluate the case and see if resolution is possible. Many times misdemeanors can be resolved at pre-trial with only one court date left - sentencing. The Court sets the sentencing date a number of weeks into the future to enable the client to attend a pre-sentence interview. This is conducted in the probation office. A pre-sentence report is created and reviewed by myself and client and then given to the judge for his consideration for sentencing. Sometimes pre-sentence reports are not required and the client can get sentenced the same day as pre-trial, most of the time the judges want the report though.

When charges do not get "dismissed" or "adjudicated" at the pre-trial stage, the next event will still be held at District Court. This hearing will be one of two things either a preliminary examination or a waiver to circuit court.

If a preliminary exam is going to be held the client has a right to have this held within 14 days from the date of arraignment but, if need be, this “14-day rule” can be waived by the client and prosecution and the case would then be adjourned for a reasonable time in order for the parties to do whatever it is they need time to accomplish (as long as the judge agrees) . This exam, in many cases, will take no more than an hour, if that. It is the burden of the prosecutors to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that 1. A crime was committed and 2. That the client committed it.

Now a preponderance of the evidence standard is very low, that is to say, it is an easy hurdle for the prosecutor to clear (just the slightest tipping of the scale in their favor and they get their relief) and therefore, most often but not always, the matter gets bound over to Circuit Court. Bind-overs to Circuit Court are also made easier for the prosecutor due to the fact that the defense never puts on witnesses of their own but rather listens to the prosecutors case in order to uncover weaknesses, cross-examine witnesses, make objections and eventually, if the opportunity presents itself, make meaningful bind-over objections to get charges dismissed or amended.

If a matter gets bound over to Circuit Court, everything changes. The prosecutors burden shifts to beyond a reasonable doubt and the defense finally gets the chance to present witnesses and other evidence. Before things get to this point however, a number of dates are scheduled in an attempt to either resolve the case or schedule it for trial.


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