Misdemeanor crimes are minor criminal offenses and are handled in the county court system. However, a misdemeanor can become a felony after repeated offenses. Crimes that are commonly considered to be misdemeanors include:
Felony crimes are serious offenses which are punishable by significant incarceration and fines. Crimes that are commonly considered to be felonies include:
How a criminal case is handled:
Filing the Case
The case is filed by the District Attorney’s office in County Court. It is then generated into a document called an information. This document advises the defendant of the offenses they are charged with.
Once the information document has been processed, a file is generated and the case is assigned to the county court.
If the defendant is in jail he/she will be brought to court. Inmates are brought to the courts in groups. The only way to be brought to court is by the request of the court or through the request of the defendant’s attorney.
If the defendant was able to bond out of jail he/she will be notified by mail at the address provided at the defendant's release. The information that is sent out specifies the court the case has been assigned to, the court date and the time the defendant is to appear. On the court date, the defendant should appear at the time scheduled. If the defendant is not there on time then bond can be forfeited and an arrest warrant issued. Bond forfeiture means that the person who posted money or property, as a guaranty that the defendant would appear for the setting date looses it. If you are not sure what to do it is always best to enter the courtroom and check in with the court bailiff or court coordinator, unless advised otherwise by the defense attorney.
If the defendant has been released from jail, he/she must appear in court for a first appearance or arraignment. It will be determined at this setting if the defendant must hire an attorney or if they qualify for a court appointed lawyer. Usually the defendant has until the next court date to hire an attorney.
If in jail the defendant will be brought to the court. If the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney and if an attorney has not already been appointed for him/her, one will be appointed.
At this time the defense attorney will receive the police report on the case and any additional evidence that the prosecutor has in his or her possession. The defense attorney will also receive a formal complaint, which states the charges that have been filed. It is possible that charges may be different than those stated at the time of arrest. The police may have arrested him/her for one pair of offenses, the District Attorney’s office may have disagreed and filed a completely different set of offenses if they feel the facts warrant.
The first announcement setting allows the defense lawyer and the assistant district attorney an opportunity to discuss the case and determine if the case will be dismissed, plea bargained or set for a jury or bench trial.
The case can be set for announcement two or three times. It is set several times, usually, because it is because it is not the 1st case on the trial docket, older cases go first. If the defendant is out on bond they will be required to appear at every court setting regardless of whether the defendant’s attorney has to appear. If the defendant does not have to appear he/she will be notified by his/her attorney.
If the defendant is in jail he/she will not always be brought to the court for each announcement setting, unless the defendant’s attorney requests that the defendant be brought to the court.
At the final announcement setting it is determined whether the defendant wishes to reach a plea bargain agreement or to have a trial. If the decision is made to have a trial, most courts will not allow the plea bargain be offered again.
If the defendant has chosen to take the plea bargain offer then the case will be set for a plea. This is were the defendant will enter his/her plea of guilty or nolo contender to the charges brought against him/her. A plea of nolo contender means that the defendant is not pleading guilty but is not contesting the charges brought against him/her. Though is still has the same legal effects as pleading guilty to the charge. During this setting the defendant may either accept the plea bargain offered or he/she may enter an open plea. An open plea requests the judge to set punishment instead of accepting the punishment the State has offered.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense you have the right to plead not guilty to the charges brought against you and have a trial by jury or before a judge. The form the trial takes depends entirely upon the particular circumstances of the case. The well-prepared criminal defense attorney will develop a case for the defendant and call witnesses that support the his/her innocence. The State, through the Assistant District Attorney, must prove the defendant guilty of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt.
In most jurisdictions, before trial begins, the defendant and the defense attorney will have the opportunity to select a jury. This is commonly called voir dire (jury selection). In a misdemeanor case there are 6 jurors.
After the jury has been selected the defense attorney will argue whatever motions are required in order to secure the defendant a fair trial. After the motions are heard, the trial will begin. The Assistant District Attorney will give an opening statement. The defense attorney can give an opening statement either at that time or reserve opening statement until after the Assistant District Attorney’s case is over. After the opening statement, the Assistant District Attorney will present its evidence in the form of physical and scientific evidence and expert and lay witnesses. The defense attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine each of those witnesses.
Once the State rests the case, the defense attorney will present the defendant’s case and call witnesses to the stand. After the defense attorney rests his case, the State has an opportunity to present rebuttal evidence. After all the evidence has been presented, the Assistant District Attorney and the defense attorney will present closing arguments to the jury.
The jury will then retire to deliberations and attempt to reach a verdict. The jury’s decision must be unanimous. All 6 jurors must reach the same conclusion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant. If the jurors are not able to reach a unanimous verdict the judge may declare a mistrial and the case may be retried.
If the defendant is found guilty of the offense he/she may choose whether the jury or the judge will set punishment. If it is a bench trial the judge determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant and also sets the punishment.
A defendant may be eligible to have a jail sentence probated depending on various factors of the case. This means that the defendant would not be sent to jail but would be released and supervised by the Department of Community Supervision.
What can we do to help your case? Listed below are some of the options available in criminal cases for defendants represented by qualified attorneys:
To learn more about what attorney Timothy M. Farris can do for you, contact our offices today. Representing clients throughout the state of Mississippi.