What happens If I'm charged with a misdemeanor?
The law defines crimes in terms of punishment. A misdemeanor is a crime whose maximum punishment is one year in the county jail.
The timeline for a misdemeanor case is:
1. Arrest or Citation
Your first court appearance after your arrest is called an arraignment. You will appear briefly before a judge who will advise you of your constitutional rights, give you a copy of the charges [called a complaint] and ask if you wish to be referred to the public defender. Only those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer are eligible for our services.
If you are referred to the public defender's office while you are in custody the public defender will come to interview you. If you are out of custody, the case will be continued long enough to give you a chance to go to the Public Defender's Office for an interview.
When you next appear in court, the judge will ask you to enter a plea and set future court dates. The court may also take up the issue of your bail.
3. Pretrial Hearing
The pretrial hearing is an opportunity to see if your case can be settled without a trial. This is sometimes called "plea bargaining" and it occurs in every case. Your public defender meets with the district attorney with the goal of securing a reduction of the charges and sentence in exchange for your plea of "guilty" or "no contest".
If you decide to enter into a plea bargain, you will be asked to give up your right to a jury trial. You will then enter a plea of guilty or no contest. Typically, your sentencing will occur the same day.
If you choose not to accept the plea bargain, your case will be continued for trial.
Every criminal defendant has the right to a trial by jury. Because every person accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent, the burden is on the district attorney to convince 12 jurors that you are guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Most misdemeanor trials last about a week. All 12 jurors must agree in order to convict or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, a "mistrial" will be declared and the case may be tried again before a different jury, settled by way of plea bargain or even dismissed.