Felony Criminal Case Timeline
This section is meant as a general overview of the different court appearances as a felony case progresses through court. It is not meant to cover the law which applies at each stage, or all of the practical or tactical considerations, which will vary from case to case. Felonies are those crimes punishable by a state prison sentence. All felonies begin in county, or limited jurisdiction court.
Advisementis your first appearance in court. There, you are advised of the specific charges against you, and your Constitutional and statutory rights. At that time either a preliminary hearing (for class 1, 2 or 3 felonies) or a dispositional hearing is set to speak with the District Attorney about a potential plea bargain. Bail may be set, raised or lowered. Further court dates are also set, and your attorney will make arrangements to get the discovery, or police reports before your next appearance.
The next appearance is either a pretrial, or settlement conference, (dispositional hearing) or a preliminary hearing. This is an attempt to see if it is possible to settle your case by way of plea bargain early in the proceedings.
If no agreement is reached and you have a right to a Preliminary Hearing, the hearing takes place. The preliminary hearing is a short contested hearing, where the prosecutor presents evidence to a Judge alone (no jury). You have a right to have this hearing within 30 court days of your initial advisement.
The Judge is not deciding whether the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but only whether there is probable cause to believe that a felony was committed, and that the charged defendant is among those responsible. If the Judge finds probable cause, the case is “bound over” to District Court for arraignment.
Arraignment in District Courtis virtually identical to the initial appearance. It is at the arraignment that you enter your plea of “Not Guilty” if an agreement cannot be reached with the DA.
Motionsare frequently run between the post-preliminary hearing arraignment and trial. These commonly include motions to suppress illegally seized evidence, motions to dismiss for lack of probable cause or for lack of speedy trial or one of many other motions your attorney may believe will help your case.
Trial can be to a jury, or to a Judge alone, commonly referred to as a “bench trial”. Here, both sides are allowed to present evidence, and a defendant may not be convicted until his guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In felony matters, a defendant has a right to have his trial begin within 60 days of his post-preliminary hearing arraignment.
Misdemeanors are those crimes punishable with sentences to county jail. They are heard entirely in municipal or limited jurisdiction court (county court), and include only one arraignment, one pretrial, motions and trial.
Bail is usually set at the time the defendant is arrested. The arraignment Judge will usually hear arguments and then raise or lower the bail accordingly. The issue of bail amount may be addressed at subsequent hearings, however, the amount may only be moved for “changed circumstances”. Bail may be posted in cash, by pledging real property, or through a bail bondsman.