I have previously written about the stages of a felony prosecution, but what about a misdemeanor?
Misdemeanors, such as DUI, assault & battery, petty theft (shoplifting), driving on a suspended license, some domestic violence charges and violations of court orders, have their own time line and procedures.
You may not even have to appear in court
One of the biggest differences is that there is a provision in the California Penal Code that allows an attorney to appear on behalf of their client if only misdemeanor charges are filed. There are some exceptions where the court may require the attendance of the accused at the first court appearance, but in general, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, you may not necessarily have to appear in court at all. I have several clients I represent on misdemeanor charges that have never had to even set foot in the courthouse.
No Preliminary Hearing
Unlike a felony, there is no preliminary hearing in a misdemeanor case. The prosecution files their charges and unless they are willing to dismiss the charges or an acceptable plea agreement is reached, those are the charges that you will face at trial. Unfortunately, it gives the prosecution the ability to charge crimes without the “checks & balances” of a preliminary hearing to weed out unsupported and frivolous charges.
Time limits and speedy trial rights
In a felony case, there are certain time limits for the preliminary hearing, the next charging document to be filed and for trial. In a misdemeanor case, there is only one time frame – from arraignment to trial. If you were in custody at the time of your arraignment (when you entered a “not guilty” plea), you must be brought to trial within 30 days or the case must be dismissed. If you were not in custody at your arraignment, you still have a right to a speedy trial, but it’s within 45 days of your “not guilty” plea. Of course, either of those time frames can be extended if you agree to “waive time” and set your trial date beyond those time limits. You and I may choose to do that in order to interview witnesses the police overlooked, send subpoenas to witnesses or gather other evidence for your defense.
In between your arraignment and your trial, motions to suppress evidence can be filed if the police conducted an illegal or improper search. Motions to dismiss the entire case may be filed in the right circumstances if the police unlawfully detained or arrested you.
Every case is unique and obviously, needs to be discussed with your attorney. I hope the general information above helped.