The following information is intended to help you with many of the most commonly asked questions that the Court receives regarding criminal cases.
What is an arraignment?
The arraignment is generally your first appearance in court on the citation or charge. The Judge will inform you of, and explain the charge. Next it will be confirmed that you understand your constitutional rights. Lastly, the maximum punishment and mandatory minimum punishment, if any, will be stated. No testimony is taken or evidence is presented at this hearing.
What are my Constitutional Rights?
All persons accused of any crime or traffic offense that might result in a jail sentence have the following rights:
- To have a lawyer present with you at all hearings;
- To have a lawyer appointed at public expense if you cannot afford to hire one to represent you;
- To represent yourself without a lawyer;
- To a public and speedy trial;
- To cross examine any witness who testifies against you;
- To call witnesses to testify on your behalf, and have the Court compel their attendance;
- To testify or not testify yourself; if you choose not to. (No one can make you testify);
- To appeal to Superior Court if you are convicted after a not guilty plea.
After informing you of all these matters you will be asked by the Judge to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
Should I talk to a lawyer before entering a plea?
In many cases this is a good idea. The Judge, at your request, will continue the arraignment. If you wish to plead not guilty at this stage, the Judge will request that you have your lawyer file a Notice of Appearance. If at any hearing you fail to appear, your bond or bail will be forfeited and the Judge may issue a bench warrant.
If I am financially unable to hire a lawyer, how do I qualify for a Public Defender?
At the arraignment or any point in the pre-trial proceedings you may indicate to the Judge that you are unable financially to hire a lawyer. The Judge will have you complete an Application for Public Defender. If a public defender is granted you will be given contact information.
The criminal calendar is held each Thursday beginning at 8:30 a.m.
What will happen if I plead Guilty?
If you plead guilty it means you admit the charge and the elements to prove the charge. By pleading guilty you waive your constitutional rights and in most cases you will be sentenced right then. However, you may speak on your behalf at sentencing.
What will happen if I plead Not Guilty?
A not guilty plea denies the charge and none of your constitutional rights are waived unless you expressly wish to do so. You are presumed innocent and the prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at a subsequent trial. The next hearing will be a pre-trial conference where the prosecutor will be present. You and your lawyer, if you have one, are required to be present. Motions are heard and a jury trial date is set during this pre-trial process. Information about all the evidence in the case and witness names is exchanged.
What should I wear and how should I act in Court?
Suitable attire is required. Shoes and shirts are necessary. Halter-tops, tank tops, and shorts are not permitted. Hats are to be removed upon entering the Courtroom. No smoking, food, gum, cell phones, pagers, or drink will be allowed. Children may be present in the Courtroom, but if they disturb the proceedings you may be requested to remove them.
You will need to check-in at the Court Reception upon your arrival. There will be a few necessary court forms to be completed by you prior to approaching the bench. When your case is called come forward to the podium with your completed forms.