Misdemeanor Criminal Complaints and Charges
What to do if a formal complaint or citation has been filed against you with a Municipal Court Criminal Division.
Hire an Attorney. Just because the charge is a misdemeanor does not mean that there are not serious consequences.
The charges against you allege that your actions were unlawful. You will need to appear in court at an arraignment to enter a plea to those charges.
If you were given a citation/complaint by a Police Officer, your arraignment date will be the appearance date on your citation/complaint. If you received a summons from the Court, your arraignment date will be the court date indicated on your summons. Under our American system of justice, all persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Your decision on what plea to enter is one of the most important decisions you will have to make. There are three possible pleas to a criminal charge:
Plea Of Not Guilty – This is the usual course of action. Only those that do not seek legal advice fail to plea not guilty. A not guilty plea means that you are informing the court that you deny guilt and that the state must prove the criminal charge(s) against you. In the a Municipal Court, the state is represented by the City Prosecutor’s Office.
Plea of Guilty – You admit that you committed the act charged in the complaint(s), that the act is prohibited by law and that you have no legal defense for your act. If you were involved in a traffic accident at the time of the alleged offense, your plea of guilty could be used later in a civil suit for damages as an admission by you that you were at fault or were the party responsible for the accident.
Plea Of No Contest – This plea, also known as nolo contendere, means that you are not admitting guilt and not denying it. You are saying that you do not wish to contest the state’s charge against you. Upon a plea of no contest, the Judge will enter a judgment of guilt. Unlike a plea of guilty, a plea of no contest cannot be used against you in a civil suit.
You will have to enter your plea with the Judge at your arraignment hearing. If you retain the services of a reputatble law firm you will not even need to appear at your arraignment, your lawyer will appear for you. Unless your case involves a “victim” who has asked to be present, no witnesses will be present at arraignment and no testimony will be taken. At arraignment, the Judge will not grant a defendant’s request to dismiss any charges. You simply enter your plea to the charge against you.
If your plea is “not guilty,” a pre-trial conference will be scheduled followed by a trial setting. You may represent yourself, but no one except an attorney may represent you on your case
For some types of offenses, diversion programs offered by the Prosecutor’s Office provide an alternative to the normal trial process. If you are eligible for these programs, you will be given information and directions for enrollment.
What happens at a pre-trial conference?
Your attorney will be given an opportunity to meet with a Prosecutor to review the facts supporting the state’s criminal charges against you. If you have not already been provided with a settlement offer by the Prosecutor’s Office, you will be provided with one at the pre-trial conference.
At the pre-trial conference, you are entitled to review a copy of the complaint(s), any written police reports or any other evidence that the state intends to use at the trial. Witnesses do not attend the pre-trial disposition conference and no testimony is taken. You have three options at the PDC:
What happens at a trial on criminal charges/complaints?
Depending on the alleged offense, you may be entitled to a trial by jury. You are entitled to hear all testimony introduced against you. You have the right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against you. You have a right to testify on your own behalf. You also have a Constitutional right not to testify. If you choose not to testify, your refusal cannot and will not be used against you in determining your guilt or innocence. However, if you do choose to testify, the Prosecutor will have the right to cross-examine you. You may call witnesses to testify on your behalf. You have the right to have the court issue subpoenas for witnesses to ensure their appearance at the trial. You must furnish the names and addresses of these witnesses to the court well in advance of your trial so that the subpoenas may be properly served.
Presenting the case
Your attorney will advise you regarding the presentation of your case. Only experienced aggressive attorneys can properly protect your rights.
After each prosecution witness has finished giving testimony, you will have the right to cross-examine the witness. Your examination must be in the form of questions and you must not argue with the witness.
After the prosecution has presented its case, you may present your case. You have the right to call witnesses of your choosing. It is at this point that you may testify on your own behalf if you so desire. You do not have to present evidence or testify, the burden of proof is always on the government.
At the end of the trial, you will have an opportunity to summarize your case to the jury, or in a non-jury case, to the Judge. At that time you may present any arguments that are based on the evidence presented during the trial and that tend to show your innocence.
The judgement or verdict will be based upon the facts and evidence presented during the trial. Only the testimony of witnesses who are under oath can be considered.
The amount of any jail sentence, fine, fee, restitution or probation assessed by the court is affected by the facts and circumstances of the case and your prior criminal record. Mitigating circumstances may lower the amount of jail, fine or probations, even if you are guilty.
However, aggravating circumstances also may increase the amount of jail, fine or probation. For some offenses, there are statutory minimum sentences, which the judge must impose. In no instance will sentences exceed the maximum levels of $2,500 fine and/or six months in jail and/or three year’s probation, (five years for DUI charges) for any one complaint.