The Misdemeanor Court Process Part 1: Charging and Arraignment
Some of the most common questions I receive as an attorney at law in Portland are ones regarding the misdemeanor legal process.
While being charged with a misdemeanor crime is not nearly as serious as a felony, it still can have a major effect on your day-to-day life. You can indeed go to jail, and your life can be turned upside down, particularly if you don’t know how to correctly navigate the legal process.
In part one of our two-part series on the misdemeanor court process, we’ll review the details of the charging and arraignment sections of the misdemeanor court process in Oregon.
Be on the lookout for next month’s installment: The Misdemeanor Court Process Part 1: Pleas’, Trial, and Sentencing.
What is a Misdemeanor?
Misdemeanors are often thought of as minor criminal charges, but they are actually quite serious and can result in jail time.
Misdemeanors are the middle of three basic classifications of crimes. These three classifications are….
- Felonies: Punishable by over 1 year in prison
- Misdemeanors: Punishable by up to 1 year in prison
- Violations: No prison sentence or arrest, only a citation
Put simply, misdemeanors are criminal charges that result in the possibility of less than one year of prison.
Different Classes of Misdemeanor Offenses in Oregon
In Oregon, there are three classes of misdemeanor offenses and if convicted of the crime, these classes determine the sentence. The classes and maximum penalties are as follow:
- Class A misdemeanor: 1 year and $6,250
- Class B misdemeanor: 6 months and $2,500
- Class C misdemeanor: 30 days and $1,250
What Happens When I’m Charged With a Misdemeanor?
Most misdemeanors begin with a police citation which includes a date when you must appear in court. That appearance is called an arraignment (more on this shortly).
When charged with a misdemeanor you may or may not be arrested and brought to jail at the time of the citation. Some charges, such as those for DUII, require individuals to be arrested and brought to jail no matter the circumstance.
What Happens Between Being Charged and My Arraignment?
Between the issuing of the citation and the arraignment date, the officer will have turned over all his reports to the District Attorney (DA) who will decide which formal charges will be brought by the state.
Once the District Attorney has a chance the review the case, they will decide how they will charge the crime, referred to as the “charging decision”.
Based on how they view the events, they can choose…
- What the officer has listed as the charges
- Adding or removing charges if they believe the officer has missed a crime that’s been committed
- Not bringing any charges if they feel there isn’t enough evidence, which is called a “no complaint”
Commonly the DA will add charges to the crime charge solely for negotiating power so they can attempt to negotiate a plea deal. For instance, DAs will commonly add “reckless driving” onto a DUII charge just so they can entice individuals into accepting a guilty plea by taking it away.
In any event, you’ll not know the results of the DA’s “charging decision” until you appear at the arraignment and are formally presented with the charges listed on the DA’s “Information”.
While there are many crimes that are considered “misdemeanor crimes,” the District Attorney can increase or decrease crime levels by using what is called “prosecutorial discretion”.
Prosecutorial discretion refers to the powers by the prosecuting attorney to decide on the charges levied on a defendant. District Attorneys can decide to decrease or increase the charges brought against someone.
This means a crime that’s usually associated with a felony charge can be brought down to a misdemeanor at the discretion of the prosecutor. Additionally, a misdemeanor charge can be increased to a felony charge if the prosecutor feels it’s appropriate to increase the charge due to the particulars of the case.
Prosecutorial discretion is particularly relevant to individuals with immigration issues, as a felony conviction is grounds for automatic deportation. Misdemeanors on the other hand do not include such a consequence.
Fortunately, defense attorneys can advocate on your behalf for lessening a felony to a misdemeanor conviction, and help ensure the prosecutor does not increase your misdemeanor to a felony.
Will You Need an Attorney for a Misdemeanor?
Knowing your options and taking the right steps prior to your arraignment can mean the difference between jail time and a better outcome from your arrangement. The right attorney can help you sort through your options and ensure you take the right steps during this initial court appearance.
Need an experienced attorney for your arraignment or court appearance? I can help.
Contact me at (503) 227-3800.
What Happens at the Arraignment?
At the arraignment you’ll be called before the judge and given key information that will move your case forward.
Here, you’ll be made aware of what you are being charged with and read the District Attorney’s charging decision. This will let you know what you’re being charged with, including any possible fines, jail time, or additional penalties.
You’ll also be read your rights and any restrictions you must comply with until your case is resolved, including conditions for release from jail.
Can I Plead Guilty At My Arraignment?
After reading you the charging decision and your rights, the judge will eventually ask you what plea you’d like to enter.
Generally, a judge will not let you plead guilty at an arraignment.
This is because the court must satisfy itself that you are entering that plea, “voluntarily, wisely and knowingly,” which it cannot do without first speaking to an attorney.
Will The Court Assign Me a Public Attorney?
Once you have made your plea, the judge will ask if you can afford to hire an attorney. If you feel you can’t due to your financial situation, the court will have you fill out a questionnaire detailing your personal finances. This will let them know if you qualify for a court appointed attorney at little or no cost to you.
If you are appointed an attorney, the court will then schedule a new appearance time for you to return with an attorney for your arraignment. Until then, the court will consider you “not guilty” of the charges.
Afterwards, a third date will be set where you can change your plea to “guilty,” or maintain your “not guilty” status and schedule your case for trial.
WIll I Be Drug Tested at the Arraignment?
You will generally not be drug tested at an arraignment. However, if your charges involve drug offenses, the court and or the probation department may require some conditions for you to remain at liberty while awaiting your next court dates.
For instance, in a DUII case, although you plead “not guilty” and no charges have been proven against you, the court may forbid you from consuming alcohol until your case is resolved.
Set Yourself Up For Success
Have you been charged with a misdemeanor crime and need help during the charging and arraignment process? I can help.
As an experienced Portland defense attorney I can….
- Help you navigate the arraignment process and assist in brokering you a plea-deal
- If brought to trial, assist you in evidence gathering
- Help you on your court date, as well as ensure you are being fairly sentenced and you can work around your sentence
Contact me at (503) 227-3800 to learn more and get started on your case today.