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Criminal Defense

What will happen in my felony case?

I just got arrested. What should I do?
What will happen in my misdemeanor case?
What will happen in my felony case?
Is a suspended imposition of sentence a conviction?

In order to charge a person with a crime, the prosecutor must have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. Probable cause typically consists of a sworn statement made by a law enforcement officer. The officer testifies as to his or her observations in the course of his investigation which would lead him to believe that a crime was committed or in progress. Based on this probable cause statement, the prosecutor may decide to charge the case as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case.

A felony prosecution involves two related hearings, often (but not always) before two different judges. The first hearing determines whether there is a probable cause basis to believe the defendant committed a crime. Only if there is such a basis can the felony prosecution be transferred to the court in which it may be tried.

Felony cases can be initiated in one of two ways. First, the prosecutor can file a document known as a “Complaint” in the court, together with the probable cause statement. The court will schedule a preliminary hearing to determine whether probable cause exists to require the person charged with the felony (the defendant) to answer the charge and proceed to trial. If the court does not find that probable cause exists, the court will dismiss the case.

In the vast majority of cases, however, the prosecutor will be able to show a probable cause basis that the defendant committed a crime. Most of the time, probable cause hearings are useful for the defendant to examine the state’s witnesses at an early stage and learn more about the facts of the case. It is not uncommon for the prosecutor to extend some offer contingent on the defendant waiving his right to a preliminary hearing.

The prosecutor may choose to establish a probable cause basis for the charge by presenting the facts of the case to a grand jury, instead of to a judge at a preliminary hearing. A grand jury is a secret panel of jurors who are convened to determine whether probable cause exists to charge the defendant with a felony. The defendant is not present and will not know about the grand jury until after the fact, but the court will oversee the proceedings. If the grand jury believe that there is probable cause to pursue a case against the defendant, the grand jury will sign a document known as an “Indictment” which will be used to institute a felony case.

Before the court can take any action with regards to the felony charge, it must first arraign the defendant. An arraignment is where the judge informs the defendant in open court of the charges brought against him, the range of punishment the defendant faces and the defendant’s rights. The judge may ask the defendant to plead guilty or not guilty—but more often than not, the judge will tell the defendant to plead not guilty so as to preserve the defendant’s rights. The judge will not want to accept a guilty plea by a defendant who is not represented by counsel.

If you hire Baker Legal Services, we would obtain a copy of the evidence available to the prosecutor in your case. If there is some basis for a defense, we will investigate the facts of your case, obtain the testimony of witnesses and prepare for trial. At the same time, we will work with the prosecutor to see if an acceptable plea agreement can be reached. You are free to accept or reject any plea agreement—our goal is to present you with the best possible disposition. If no agreement can be reached, we will prepare for trial and present our case to a judge and jury.