Information for Defendants
I’ve been charged with a crime. What now?
The first step to the criminal process is the arraignment. At the arraignment the defendant is told what they are charged with, the maximum possible penalty, and has the chance to plead not guilty or guilty, to have a bond set, and to have a date set for a next hearing.
If charged with a misdemeanor, the next hearing date will be pretrial hearing followed by either an accept or reject hearing, a plea hearing, or a trial.
If charged with a felony, the next hearing is a settlement conference, pre-exam conference, or probable cause conference. This conference is a multi-part hearing that starts with a meeting between the public defender and the prosecutor to discuss scheduling, discovery, and any potential plea or resolution to the case. The defendant and their attorney will then go in front of the District Court judge to explain what they are doing with the case: asking for more time or an adjournment, proceeding to a preliminary examination, waiving the preliminary examination, or entering a plea.
The preliminary examination is a hearing before the District Court judge where the prosecution must prove that there is probable cause that a crime occurred and that the defendant was the person who committed the crime. This is done by the prosecutor calling witnesses and providing evidence for the judge to consider. The public defender has the opportunity to cross examine witnesses and observe evidence provided. Public defenders do not usually call witnesses at these hearings. If the prosecution convinces the judge that a crime probably occurred and that the defendant was the person that probably committed the crime, the District Court judge “binds over” or sends the case to Circuit Court.
In Circuit Court, a new judge is assigned that will handle the remained of the case. The next scheduled date will be a Trial Management Conference where the public defender, the judge, and the prosecutor discuss the case, any scheduling or motion issues, and any potential resolution.
The next hearing is a trial, either by jury or by judge. Should you be found not guilty, the case is closed without further action. If you are found guilty or enter a plea, a sentencing date is set several weeks out in order for an interview to be conducted by the probation department for the Judge to review prior to sentencing. Your attorney will be in contact with you prior to and attend this interview with you. Before sentencing, your attorney will go over the report with you and prepare you for the sentencing hearing.
What are my rights?
Every criminal defendant has the right to a jury trial, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, to have the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty, to have witnesses against them appear at trial, to question those witnesses, to have the court order any witnesses they wish to have appear at trial, to remain silent during a trial, to not have their silence used against them, and to testify at trial should they wish.
Should I talk to the police?
Every person who has watched a crime procedure show has heard the line "you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you." The important thing to remember on this is that what you say will be used against you. If you are interacting with the police it is extremely unlikely that you are going to be able to talk your way out of the situation. The best thing you can do is clearly assert your right to silence, request an attorney, and politely refuse to answer any questions.
What is a civil infraction, misdemeanor, or felony?
A civil infraction, generally referred to as a ticket, is a civil matter that can only be punishable by a fine and no criminal sanction like a conviction or a jail sentence. A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by up to 1 year in jail and/or 2 years of probation. A felony is a crime punishable by more than 1 year in jail and/or up to 5 years of probation. A high-court misdemeanor is hybrid between a misdemeanor and a felony. High-court misdemeanors are punishable by up to 2 years in prison and/or 5 years of probation. It is considered a felony for criminal justice purposes but a misdemeanor for civil purposes. This means a person with a high-court misdemeanor conviction has not been convicted of a felony for job purposes but is otherwise treated as a felony.
I have a no contact order. What does that mean? Can the other person contact me?
A no contact order is an order of the court put in place by the judge at some point during the case preventing the defendant from having contact with specifically named people. The no contact order only applies to the defendant and does not apply to anyone else. That means that it is only the defendant who cannot have contact with the specifically named people, but they can contact the defendant. It is a one-way order.
What should I wear to court?
It is extremely important to dress appropriately for court. If able, wear business attire. Clothes worn to court should be clean and in good condition without any obvious rips, tears, or stains. Any clothes with profanity or potentially rude or suggestive symbols should be avoided. The showing of excess or unnecessary skin should also be avoided. Remove any hat upon entering the courtroom.
Does my attorney work for the court or the prosecutor?
No. While they may be paid by Bay County, public defenders are not “court appointed” and do not work for the judge. They are given a salary from the County to represent clients that are assigned to them through the Office of Assigned Counsel.
Public defenders do not work for the prosecutor and are against or adversarial to the prosecutor. It is a public defenders job to solely represent and advise their clients.
Can I hire my public defender? If I pay them will they work harder?
No. A public defender cannot receive and type of compensation from a client or on that client’s behalf. The public defender’s sole job is to zealously represent their clients throughout their criminal case.
How do I get a real lawyer?
Public defenders are real, licensed attorneys. They have significant criminal and delinquency experience and are mandated to undergo yearly continuing education. However, you are welcome to hire a private attorney if you wish.
Can my family or friends be with me when I talk or meet with my lawyer?
Your family and friends should not be with you when you meet with your lawyer. Anything you say to your lawyer is protected by privilege and cannot be disclosed. This protection does not extend to communications with other people in the room, however. That means that if anyone is in the room with you when you talk to your lawyer about your case, they could be called to testify to what was said. It is best to only meet and discuss your case with your lawyer and their staff.