A misdemeanor is a crime that is less serious than a felony and is usually punishable by a fine, penalty, forfeiture, or confinement. The maximum fine for a misdemeanor is $1000.00 and the maximum confinement is one year. However, some misdemeanor crimes fall outside of the general guidelines, such as a domestic violence crime which can carry up to a maximum fine of $6000.00. Some common misdemeanor crimes include drunk driving, petty theft, prostitution, and vandalism.
There are four processes in a misdemeanor crime?arrest, arraignment, pre-trial, and trial.
Three things may happen when a person is arrested by a police officer or deputy sheriff for a misdemeanor crime:
The person may be released because no charges are filed;
The person posts bail/bond or is released on his/her own recognizance (O.R.) and is scheduled for arraignment;
The person remains in custody of the law enforcement agency and is transported to the court for arraignment.
The arraignment is the defendant’s first appearance in court. At the arraignment, the defendant is informed of the charges against him/her, advised of his/her constitutional rights, appointed a counsel if the defendant cannot afford an attorney of his/her own choice, and has the option to enter into a guilty plea, a not guilty plea, or no contest (also known as nolo contendere).
If the defendant chooses to enter into a not guilty plea, a pretrial date will be scheduled, and the defendant is released on his/her own recognizance or the court sets for bail and the defendant is remanded into the custody of the Sheriff. At this time, the defendant may also set a court date to reduce the bail amount.
At the pretrial hearing, the prosecution and the defense will be exchanging information known as the discovery. Pretrial motions may be filed and motions may be made to set aside the complaint, dismiss the case, suppress the evidence, etc. The prosecution may offer a plea bargain (i.e. a charge for a lesser crime or a lesser sentence) in exchange for a guilty plea. The defendant may at this time change his/her not guilty plea to a guilty plea or a no contest plea.
If a defendant is in custody at the time of arraignment, the trial must begin within 30 days (four weeks plus two days) of arraignment or plea, whichever is later.
If the defendant is not in custody at the time of arraignment, the trial must begin within 45 days (six weeks plus three days) of arraignment or plea, whichever is later.
If the defendant waives the right to a speedy trial or requests/consents to the case being set beyond the statutory periods, the court must begin the trial within ten days of the day the case is set or continued for trial.
Court/Bench Trial : The defendant has the option to proceed with a court/bench trial rather than a jury trial. In a court/bench trial, the judge listens to the arguments, weighs the evidence, and finds the defendant guilty or not guilty. The judge is the sole decision-maker of the defendant’s fate.
- Trial by Jury : Before a jury trial may begin, the prosecutor and the defense attorneys must select the jury from a jury pool. Once the jurors are selected, the prosecution opens the case with an opening argument, calls the witnesses, and rests the case with a closing argument. The defendant has the option to present his/her evidence or places the burden on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant commits the crime. If the defendant wishes to present his/her evidence, the defendant opens his/her case with an opening argument, calls his/her witnesses, and closes the case with a closing argument. The jury weighs the evidence and decides the fate of the defendant. If the jury finds the defendant is not guilty, he or she is released and cannot be tried again for the same crime. If the defendant is found guilty, the case will be continued for sentencing, or the defendant may be sentenced immediately. The defendant has the option to appeal a conviction to the Appellate Department of the Superior Court.
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