State Court Cases
Paul Kish is an Atlanta federal criminal defense lawyer who uses his 36 years of experience in defending people facing crimes in various state courts throughout Georgia. Criminal cases generally are brought in one of two different court systems, the state courts or the federal courts. Each one of the 50 states has its own court system, what are called “state courts.” The federal government also has an entirely separate court system that operates in every state, and these courts are generally called “federal court.” For the most part, Paul practices in either the state courts of Georgia or in federal courts throughout the United States.
One of the first matters to consider in a Georgia state court case is whether the accused person can get out of jail on bail, or “make bond.” The good news is that most state court cases are eligible for the Defendant to be released on bond. Being released on bail is the usual situation for most less serious charges. The various jails throughout the state often let the arrested person post bail themself, sometimes with a credit card, and the person can get out of jail usually within a few hours of being arrested. However, there are other situations involving more serious crimes where the arrested person cannot be released on bail until he or she appears in front of a judge. Some counties have judges in the jail itself, so a person arrested in such a location often is eligible for release within a day or two.
For the most serious criminal cases, the person cannot be released unless he or she appears in front of a Superior Court Judge. This is a higher court than the Judge at the jail itself. Superior Courts are the only place to get bail for cases like murder, rape, large-scale drug trafficking and other serious allegations. People facing such charges can and do get bond, but they need for their lawyer to get a hearing in front of a Superior Court judge. This can often take weeks, and sometimes even months.
The next stage in most state court criminal cases is when the prosecutor decides whether or not to bring formal charges against the arrested person. Some charges are brought through a document called an “indictment”, which is issued by a grand jury. Other charges are drafted up by the prosecutor him or herself, and this document is called an “accusation.” There is not much difference between the two processes, but once a charging document has been issued the accused person will get notice to go back to court for an “arraignment.” This is when the Defendant and his or her attorney formally enter a “not guilty” plea. Some courts allow the lawyer to simply “waive” the arraignment, mostly because these proceedings are often lengthy and involve dozens of other cases. While the arraignment is fairly casual, it is an important point because this is the time when various court deadlines come into play. The attorney only has a certain amount of time to file various “pretrial motions.” The lawyer will also need to think about filing a “speedy trial demand.” This is an especially important consideration if the Defendant has not been able to make bail and is still in custody.
Most prosecutors in state court criminal cases hand over the “discovery” materials to the defense attorney at or shortly after the arraignment. This is generally the evidence that the prosecutor intends to use if there is a trial in the case. It consists of police reports, witness statements, documents, expert witness analyses, and anything else that the prosecutor will use as evidence. This is one part of the criminal process that is very different from federal court criminal cases, where there is no obligation for the prosecutor to identify the witnesses or their statements until shortly before the trial itself.
Another difference in state court criminal cases is the frequency of court appearances. The Defendant and his or her lawyer will be told to appear on a regular basis for various “calendars”, times when nothing much seems to happen in the case. Federal courts generally avoid these “cattle call” calendars, and the Defendant is usually the only person involved when the Judge schedules a hearing. Sometimes the state court defense lawyer can make progress in resolving the case at one of these calendars, but not always.
Just like the federal court criminal cases, the majority of state cases result in either a negotiated guilty plea or some other type of negotiated resolution. Most prosecutors are far too overworked to have a trial in every case, so they will generally make an “offer” to the defense lawyer. This offer will usually involve a recommended sentence that is less than what the prosecutor would request if the case went to trial and the Defendant was found guilty. If the Defendant accepts the prosecutor’s offer, the Defendant can almost always back out of the deal if the Judge decides to impose a sentence harsher than what the prosecutor agreed to. The prosecutor’s offer generally must be accepted or rejected by a certain date, after which any guilty plea will be “non-negotiated.” This means the Defendant cannot back out if the sentence imposed is harsher than what the lawyers on both sides recommend.
Most prosecutors and court systems in Georgia recognize that certain Defendants need a second chance. Georgia has various First Offender programs, some of which involve dropping the charges and sealing the records of the case if the person successfully completes the program. However, other more serious cases involve a lot of back and forth between the prosecutor and the defense lawyer to see if they can resolve the case in a manner acceptable to both sides.
Some state court criminal cases go to trial, and the lawyer needs to be prepared. Felony criminal cases are tried in the Superior Courts, while misdemeanor cases usually are in the State Court of each county. If there is a conviction, the Defendant usually has the right to appeal his or her case to either the Georgia Court of Appeals or the Georgia Supreme Court.
Paul Kish uses his 36 years of experience in defending criminal cases when he has a client facing a state court case. Give him a call if you want to talk about your situation.