Preliminary Hearing – Felony Cases
At this hearing, the District Attorney will be required to present sufficient evidence to prove that it is more likely than not that the accused committed the crime or crimes he/she is charged with committing. The District Attorney is not required to put on all of their evidence or even the testimony of the victim. The court will allow statements of witnesses to come into evidence through a detective or other police officer. The accused will not testify. With few exceptions, only persons charged with a class 1, 2, or 3 felony or who are in jail on a class 4,5, or 6 are entitled to this hearing. Any person may waive their right to a preliminary hearing. Waiving the hearing is not unusual and is done to keep open a plea bargain. By waiving a preliminary hearing, the accused does not waive any other of his/her rights.
Arraignment – Felony Cases
At Arraignment, the judge informs the defendant what the charges are, what his or her constitutional rights are, what all the possible penalties are, and the right to a public defender, if eligible. At Arraignment, the defendant enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or enters a guilty plea to an agreed upon plea bargain.
Disposition & Motion Hearings (District Court)
While disposition hearings for many felony cases are held (often in conjunction with the preliminary hearing) in County Court after charges are filed, a disposition hearing can also be scheduled in District Court after arraignment. Motion hearings, at which a court will hear arguments on oral or written requests for a ruling on a particular legal point or issue related to the criminal case, are also scheduled prior to trial.
Pre-Trial Conference (District Court)
A meeting between the prosecutor, the defendant or his attorney and the court to resolve issues prior to trial so that the parties and the court are better prepared for trial. The parties might also discuss a plea bargain.
If the defendant pleads not guilty, and the case is not otherwise resolved by dismissal, guilty plea, or plea bargain, the next step in the process is a jury trial or trial to the court (bench trial). A defendant has the right to demand a jury trial for felony crimes and can request a jury trial for petty offenses and municipal ordinance violations. Felony trials are held in District Court. The trial may be preceded by hearings on motions. A defendant may plead guilty at any point of the prosecution process, including up to and during a trial.
A trial may result in a conviction by the judge or jury on the original-filed or later-added charges, on only a portion of the charges, or on any lesser included offense.
Conviction and Sentencing
If the defendant is found guilty by plea or jury/judge verdict, then he or she is said to be convicted of the charges. If a defendant is convicted, the next step is sentencing. Sentencing can occur immediately but is usually scheduled for another date several weeks later. It is a judge's responsibility to sentence the defendant, and requiring the defendant return for sentencing at a later date allows the judge to gather additional information through a Pre-Sentencing Investigation (PSI) before the sentencing decision is made.