We firmly believe that good people can be caught in bad situations. Just because you have been arrested for a crime does not make you a bad person. If you are like most people, when you are arrested you are afraid of what might happen to you.
For most criminal charges, the individual is released on his own recognizance, without a bond, and ordered to appear before the court at a specific date and time. Other more serious charges may have a surety bond required by the Court or Magistrate to insure the individuals return. If the accused fails to return, the bond will be forfeited. Regardless of whether or not a bond was required, if the individual fails to make the appearance, it may result in the Court issuing a charge of Failure to Appear and a warrant for you immediate arrest being issued.
If the charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor or a felony, the accused has a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney. At the first appearance before the Court the accused will be notified of this right and will be asked if he or she would wish to waive this right, have more time to try to hire an attorney, or see if he qualifies to have counsel appointed to represent him. A public defender is only free to the accused if he is found not guilty. The typical fee to the accused for a public defender is $125 which can be paid along with any fines which may be levied by the Court.
All misdemeanor charges are heard in the General District Court or the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of the city or county in which the alleged criminal act occurred. The judge of that court will hear the evidence against the accused and enter findings of guilt and sentencing. Before the proceedings begin, the judge will announce the charges being made and ask the accused how he pleas. The individual may plead guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere (no contest). If the accused pleads guilty or no contest, there will be a recitation of a summary of the facts and then the judge orders incarceration, fines and restitution that would be appropriate to the recited summary. The judge may suspend jail time and fines conditioned on the accused agreeing to perform community service or a period of time of uniform good behavior.
In certain circumstances, the accused may choose to enter a plea of guilt or no contest in exchange for an agreed upon disposition which may have been negotiated with the Commonwealth’s Attorney. If an individual pleads not guilty, then there is a formal presentation of evidence and a finding of fact by the court. Any finding by the General District Court or the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court may be appealed to the Circuit Court by filing the appeal with the clerk of the court that entered the order within 10 days of the entry of the order.
Felonies will typically begin in General District Court or the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, but will ultimately be tried in Circuit. The General District Court or the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court will conduct a preliminary hearing to establish whether the evidence is sufficient to establish probable cause to hold the accused to stand trial for the charges. A finding of probable cause means that the evidence shows that more likely than not the crime was committed and that it was committed by the accused. A person who has been accused may choose to waive the preliminary hearing in exchange for an agreed upon plea bargain. Once in Circuit Court, the accused can elect to have a jury trial. Any appeal of a Circuit Court ruling must be noted with the clerk of the court within 30 days of the entry of the order.