While the first part of the misdemeanor court process is about understanding where you stand, the second part is about taking action. The preparation, direction, and decisions you make during this stage will ultimately decide if you’re found innocent or guilty when the verdict is read.
Now that you’ve been formally charged with a crime at your arraignment, it’s time to go through the pre-trial process, followed by the trial and sentencing. In part two of our two-part series, we’ll go over everything you need to know about these three crucial stages of the misdemeanor court process.
If you haven’t yet, read The Misdemeanor Court Process Part 1: Charging and Arraignment to see what happens when charged and arraigned with a crime.
What Should I Do Before My Trial?
Hire a Lawyer
If you haven’t already consulted with a lawyer, now is the time to do so. While you are not required to hire a lawyer, having one will put you in the best possible situation to defend yourself against any charges. Attorneys simply know how to navigate the system based on training and experience and will put you in a far better situation to succeed.
Prepare and Organize Your Evidence
Evidence is any “matter of fact” that either the defense or prosecution will present to a judge or jury to prove their argument in the case.
- Doctor’s reports
- Anything else you or your attorney think might help your case
It’s crucial that you hand over any evidence (even if it seems small) to your lawyer immediately. This will allow them to investigate how it could help you defend yourself, as well as properly disclose it to the court.
Discovery is a rule of evidence which requires both sides to share all evidence, including names of witnesses or physical evidence, they might bring to trial. This allows both sides to prepare accordingly, but also gives the defendant an idea of the case being brought against them.
If a District Attorney does not hand over every little piece of evidence, the case can be thrown away and you can walk away free.
Discovery is a crucial step in determining how you wish to proceed, as it gives you an idea of how strong the case is against you, and how likely it it is that your would be convicted of at least some of the charges against you. This helps you make a decision knowingly and intelligently, allowing you to plead guilty if you so choose.
At this point, the prosecution could make you an offer for a guilty plea. You’ll have two choices if this happens, which will depend on how strong their evidence is against you.
- If the evidence the state has against you is scant, you may wish to force them to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. The great risk here is that there is always the possibility of losing at trial and now potentially facing a much harsher sentence.
- If it appears the state’s case is iron-clad against you and they’re making a generous sentencing offer, you may want to plead guilty. The great benefit here is that your attorney negotiated the best sentence possible, and you know exactly what you will be facing.
If you choose to plead guilty, a date will be set at court where you’ll plead guilty in front of a judge. The plea agreement will be read out at court and the judge will have a decision to accept or reject the agreement. Very rarely will the judge not agree if both sides have come to an agreement.
In either event, having an experienced attorney on your side will be crucial in making this kind of a decision.
Don’t go through this process alone.
I can help you through the pre-trial process to ensure your case is heard and you make the right decision.
Contact me at (503) 227-3800.
Your Day in Court
You will be given a specific time and location for your court appearance. Make sure to get there on time.
What to Wear at a Court Date
I recommend going to your court date dressing and behaving like you’re going to church. If you appear too casual, you look like you don’t care about the outcome. If you appear too formal, you’ll look like you can’t be trusted by acting like someone you’re not.
First, the defense and prosecution will select the jury, which consists of 6 people for a misdemeanor.
When selecting a jury, each side will be trying to discover hidden biases by asking questions of the jury members. The jury starts as an initial 6 people, and then the defense and prosecution will have an opportunity to dismiss 3 jurors each, meaning that being discreet in how you find these biases is crucial. Once both sides run out of their 3 vetoes, that is the final jury.
The Beginning of the Trial
Throughout the entirety of the trial, the burden will always be on the prosecution to prove your guilt, meaning they need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you’re guilty. This means generally you will not be presenting a case, but chipping away at the prosecution's case against you.
Once the jury has been selected and your case starts, opening statements begin. Here, both the prosecution and defense will present a summary of their evidence to the jury. Since the burden is on the prosecution to prove the case, they’ll go first.
As a defendant, you do not need to have an opening statement if you don’t deem it necessary. At this point, you can also ask the judge to throw away the case, though they will rarely do so.
Presentation of the Case Against You
Once opening statements have finished, the prosecution will lay out the case against you in front of the jury.
As they present their case, you will always have a chance to respond to evidence and examine witnesses. Once they are finished, you can then bring up your own witnesses and pieces of evidence, with the prosecution also responding to each piece of evidence you present. Finally, they will be able to respond by bringing additional evidence and witnesses.
Closing Arguments and Verdict
This is an opportunity for both sides to give a final statement. Starting with the prosecution, evidence and key points will be reviewed and presented to the court so they can make a verdict.
Once both sides are finished with their closing arguments, the jury will rule on whether the defendant is found guilty. If found not guilty, the defendant you will be free to go. If you’re found guilty, you will move on to sentencing.
Once your verdict is read, you can choose to be sentenced at that time or in 48 hours. This allows those who need to get affairs in order time to make the proper arrangements.
The sentencing will be decided by the judge, who will be guided largely by a predetermined set of maximum and minimum penalties set by state law. You will be allowed to give a statement before the judge issues the sentencing, which is issued as a “judgment.” Any victims of your crime will be notified of all major court appearances you as the defendant will make, including at the sentencing.
What Happens After a Verdict or Plea Agreement?
Once the sentencing has been read, any jail time, license suspensions, or probation periods will start. Any fines will also be due at this time.
If you owe fines and cannot pay immediately, the judge can grant you an extension to the payment at a review hearing. If you do not pay or make arrangements, you will be held in contempt of court and held in jail.
Depending on the crime and sentencing, you can often request a specific period of time to serve your sentence. For smaller offenses, your time can be arranged around issues such as your health, job schedule, and family responsibility.
Make Sure You Go Through the Misdemeanor Court Process Responsibly
While you can represent yourself in court, why put yourself at a disadvantage?
An experienced Portland attorney can help…
- Gather evidence
- Navigate the discovery process and assist in brokering you a plea-deal
- Ensuring you have the right jury members and your case is argued against properly
Contact me at (503) 227-3800 to learn more and get started on your case today.