Life of a Case

This is a listing of what you can expect during the life of your case.  While each case varies depending on case specifics, these are the typical court settings.  You and your attorney will have a case strategy and your attorney can help explain how each setting will affect your case. 

The first court hearing after every arrest is your First Appearance. Here a magistrate or judge determines if there is enough evidence presented to support your arrest and a bond is set. For many state misdemeanor or city charges you may have a pre-set bond upon arrest, though for others you will have a first appearance at Municipal Court as described above. Judges can reconsider bond at any time, but until you have a bond set you can not get released as long as you still have open charges. Some people will get a free bond, known as a Release on Recognizance (ROR), which means that no bond must be paid to be released; unfortunately, this is uncommon. See 'Bond Information' for instructions on paying your bond.

If you post bond and get released, you don’t have to go back to court until you get a subpoena with your next court date. Make sure that the address you have on your bond is one where you live, so that you will receive the subpoena when they serve it to that address. If you move before you get a subpoena, make sure you update your address with your bondsman and/or the court.

Once your case is accepted, the first court date you have will be your Arraignment. You need a lawyer for this hearing. This is when you will plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, you will be sentenced. If you plead not guilty, a new court date will be set and you will receive your subpoena then. If the court has already appointed a public defender, an OPD attorney will be present to handle your arraignment. If you have not been appointed a public defender, you should hire a private attorney and have that attorney come with you to court. You can always call our office to find out if you qualify for a public defender and, if so, who that is.

Court dates after the first could be for a number of different things. See the glossary below for what each of the court dates means.

If you are not able to post bond and get released, the state then has 45 days for misdemeanors and 60 days for most felonies to accept your charges (the state has 120 days to accept the charges for the most serious felonies).

Additional Types of Court Settings:

Preliminary Hearing (“Prelim”) – The judge reviews evidence presented by both sides and determines whether there is probable cause for you to be charged with the crime. If the judge decides there is no probable cause for a charge at a preliminary hearing, the judge will order you released as to your bond on that charge only. If a judge decides there is probable cause for you to be charged with that crime, the judge may decide to change your bond amount. Even if a judge finds no probable cause on a charge, the state can still bring your case to trial.

Pre-Trial Conference – This is an opportunity for the state to present defense attorneys with additional evidence, usually called discovery, and discuss possible plea deal options.

Motions Hearing – This hearing is where the district attorneys and defense attorneys, with the defendant present, argue various motions filed by either side before the trial and the judge rules on them. Often, this is used to decide what evidence will be allowed in the trial and what will not. Motions are different for every case, depending on the specific facts of the case.

Hearing to Determine Counsel – This is when the judge determines your lawyer. The judge will ask who you have hired and expect that person to enroll as your attorney. The judge can also appoint the public defender’s office (OPD) to represent you at this hearing if the judge determines you are indigent and unable to afford an attorney.

Rule to Show Cause – This is a general phrase to mean a hearing for the person who has not complied with a court order to tell the court and tell them why they shouldn’t be held in contempt or why the court shouldn’t do what it wants to do. The most common situations for this are:

  • When someone is arrested for a felony, they have a Rule to Show Cause set 60 days away, giving the state until that date to formally charge the person with a crime. Usually, the defendant’s presence is not required at this date. If the defendant bonds out of jail, the time is often extended.
  • When a defendant is on probation and the probation officer or judge wants to decide whether they should remain on probation. If the probation is revoked, the judge will issue the client some form of punishment ranging from a 90 day in-jail “turn around program” to making the entire sentence “executory” – meaning you must serve your sentence.

Status Hearing – This can be for any number of things, but usually refers to matters from the previous court setting. 

Lunacy Hearing / Competency Hearing – This is when doctors evaluate the defendant and report their opinion as to the person’s ability to go to trial to the judge. The judge then decides whether the defendant is able to stand trial. If the judge decides that the person wouldn’t be able to understand what’s happening, or wouldn’t understand enough to be able to help their lawyers for a fair trial, the judge may find the defendant not competent and can’t be tried. If someone is found incompetent, the defendant will be sent to a hospital to see if the person can be treated and made competent or determine that they can’t be made competent and therefore can’t be tried. Even in these cases, usually the defendant goes to a treatment facility for some period of time – which can vary dramatically depending on the situation.

Trial – This is where you go before either a judge or jury and the prosecution presents its case trying to prove you guilty of your charge. The defense will present a case as well. At the end of the trial, the judge or jury decides if you are guilty of that crime or a related one, or if you are not guilty and presents their findings in a verdict. If you are found guilty, the judge will sentence you either at that time, or at a hearing set in the near future.

Sentencing Hearing – This is where the judge determines the sentence you will be required to serve. This can range from probation (if you are eligible and have no previous convictions) to life imprisonment depending on the charges and your prior record. If you have previous convictions, the prosecution can force the judge to increase your sentencing range on the charge you went to trial on through a multiple bill hearing.

Multiple Bill Hearing – This is held after a finding of guilty at trial. It is only held if the state is attempting to prove that you have prior felony convictions. If they are successful in proving that you are a multiple offender, the judge will resentence you as a multiple offender which is an increased penalty range.

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