Criminal Process

Crimes are generally classified as felonies or misdemeanors. Generally, felonies are punished by a sentence of one year or more in prison. Misdemeanors are generally punished by one year or less in a county jail. Probation is also a possibility. Under probation, a person would not serve any time in jail or prison.

The following definitions are provided to explain the criminal justice process:

Arrest & Booking

This is when a police officer takes you into custody and takes you to jail. The process of actually putting you in jail is called booking.

Initial Appearance (Commonly Referred to as "Arraignment")

If you are charged with a crime, this will be the first time you will go before a judge. Your legal rights will be described for you, and a bond will be set for you which you must arrange to pay before you may be released from jail. In some cases, this bond may be an “Own-Recognizance Bond” (“O.R. Bond”) which requires no payment of money to a bondsman. You also will be told the next time you are to appear in court.

Jury Call Docket

This is a hearing where you and your attorney meet with the Judge and the prosecutor to announce that you want a trial or to plead guilty.

Plea or Disposition Docket

At this hearing, you will appear with your attorney and plead guilty or “no contest” to a Judge. At this hearing, the court will announce your punishment based on your plea bargain agreement with the prosecutor. If the Judge thinks the punishment is not harsh enough, you will be allowed to withdraw your plea of guilty and have a trial.

Blind Plea

If you do not have a plea bargain agreement with the prosecutor, you may still wish to enter a plea of guilty and allow the judge to determine what your sentence will be. This type of plea is often called a “blind plea.” In this situation, you do not know the punishment the judge will give you, and you are throwing yourself on the mercy of the court. If you do not like the punishment the court decides is appropriate for you, you do not have the right to withdraw your plea and have your case set for trial.

Jury Trial

This is where a jury decides whether you are guilty of the crime with which you have been charged. The prosecutor must prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” to the jury or the Judge in order for you to be convicted of a crime.

Non-Jury Bench Trial

This is a trial where a jury is waived and the Judge alone decides whether you are guilty or not guilty of the crime with which you have been charged. In most cases both sides must agree to waive a jury.

Bench Warrant

A bench warrant is an order by the court to have you arrested because you failed to appear in court when the court told you to appear.