If you've been unfortunate enough to be placed under arrest, you've probably had this thought, "Now What?" Most likely you will have one or two sleepless nights with nightmares of an angry black-robed judge slamming a gavel followed by the sound of handcuffs clicking. If you find yourself in this scenario and want to go into court prepared, then read on for a brief outline of what you can expect. If you've been though this drill before and are familiar with the terms, arraignment, pretrial, and clerk of court, then you may want to skip to the end and set up a free consultation. If your reading an internet article, it's safe to assume you've bonded out or have been released on your own recognizance, (no bond was required) so we can skip the discussion on bond and go right to your first court notice.
1. Notice of Arraignment: This notice from the Clerk of Court tells you what you have been charged with, your case number, when your arraignment day is, the physical address of the courthouse, who your judge is and what courtroom the judge is in. The purpose of a formal arraignment is to inform the Defendant of the charges being brought against him/her, and to either plead guilty or not guilty. That's it? Yes formal arraignment is that simple and once your name gets called after the other 100 people there, that quick. There is usually no case negotiation done, because most likely it is the first time the State Attorney has seen your file. If you plead guilty you are sentenced right there, if you plead not guilty your case gets set onto the regular pretrial docket.
2. Notice of Pretrial: Your notice of pretrial will be similar to your arraignment notice, only this time it will show two dates. The first date will be your pretrial date and the second will be your trial date. Your pretrial date usually precedes the trial date by about three weeks. A pretrial conference is a status update before the judge. They will ask if you are ready to proceed to trial or if you need more time. If you need more time to put on your defense you will ask the judge for a continuance, and if granted be placed on the next pretrial docket. The pretrial cycle continues from there and can go on for quite some time depending on the complexity and severity of you case.
3. Trial Week: If you are ready to proceed to trial on your case, you will do so on the noticed trial week. Trial week is usually Monday through Friday. Every case that is going to trial for the week will appear to pick juries on Monday, then come back on their specific trial dates later in the week. Trials are just as you've seen on television, less most of the dramatic acting and music. They range from 1/2 day trials to week long trials, once again depending on the complexity and severity of your case.
That's the very basic rundown of a criminal case from the time your are arrested to the day you go to trial. Obviously there are a myriad of different scenarios and hearings that can and will occur in your case, but covering all of those is nearly impossible. The million dollar question that I haven't covered yet is, "Do I need an attorney?"
Honestly, there is no simple answer for that. Every case is different, sometimes you will and sometimes you will not. I would always recommend consulting with a reputable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Most criminal defense attorneys have free consultations, so there is really no harm in talking with them. I have consulted with countless potential clients, that at a minimum leave my office with a better understanding of how the criminal process works. In fact, on many occasions I will tell a potential client that they can handle the case themselves, only to find that they want to hire me. The reason being, is that the courtroom can be a very scary place to visit, and even scarier if you are being charged with a crime. So even though some client's cases aren't complex, they feel better about having someone there who is used to that environment. Someone that won't let them get taken advantage of by the system. Another very important benefit to hiring an attorney, is that in most cases, he can handle your case with you only stepping foot in the courtroom once. This benefit can save time, money, and stress to any potential client.