If you are charged with an offense that carries less than one year of jail time, your case will proceed through the misdemeanor case process. Misdemeanor cases are handled by the County District Court in Kentucky. In Lexington, these cases are handled in Fayette District Court at 150 N. Limestone, Lexington, KY 40507. In other counties, they will be handled wherever the district court meets.
Common Misdemeanor Offenses
Not all charges are misdemeanors. Here is a list of charges that are frequently misdemeanors:
- DUI First Offense
- DUI Second Offense
- DUI Third Offense
- Theft by Unlawful Taking
- Theft by Deception
- Harassing Communications
- Criminal Mischief
- Assault 4th Degree
- Assault 4th Degree Domestic Violence
- Possession of Marijuana
- Possession of a Controlled Substance Second Degree
- Possession of a Controlled Substance Third Degree
- Trafficking in Marijuana Less than Eight Ounces
Step One: The Investigation
The first step in any criminal case is the investigation. This is when the police, or the private complainant, investigates to establish whether or not a criminal charge can and should be brought.
This can begin with a traffic stop, or a witness calling the police. It could also start because a police officer observes something on the street. It’s important to have a lawyer during the investigation phase, because a lawyer can often influence whether charges are brought, which charges are brought, and whether the defendant receives a citation or is arrested.
Step Two: The Charging Document
Once an officer or citizen makes a decision to file a misdemeanor charge, the next step that occurs is the charging document. In most cases, the officer or citizen filing the complaint has to state sufficient facts to satisfy probable cause, meaning the judge reviewing the complaint has to find that it is likely that a crime occurred. Once this happens, either a warrant or summons will be issued.
An arrest warrant is a court order to arrest someone. They are often served by sheriffs, but police can detain you and deliver you to the jail based on a warrant. A criminal defense lawyer can help negotiate the amount of bond, or whether a warrant is recalled, which would help the defendant avoid going to jail.
A summons is a court order to appear in court at a specified time. If you do not comply with a summons, and appear or have an attorney appear for you at the designated time, you will likely receive a warrant and be arrested for the charge. A criminal defense lawyer can increase the likelihood you receive a summons.
Step Three: Arraignment
Arraignment is the first court appearance. It is your opportunity to enter a plea. In the vast majority of circumstances, a “not guilty” plea is entered at arraignment. This is because criminal defendants have certain rights.
Most importantly, this frequently includes the right to see the evidence that would be presented against them prior to trial.
Step Four: Pretrial Conference/Discovery
The production of the evidence against the defendant is called “Discovery”. After arraignment, your lawyer will have the opportunity to meet with the prosecutor to attempt to negotiate a plea or dismissal. Your lawyer can also request discovery, and the government will be ordered to turn over certain types of evidence.
Your lawyer can also generate discovery for your case: helpful facts that could convince the prosecutor that the case against you is weak or should be dismissed. This could be phone records, photos, witness statements, or any other type of evidence helpful to the defense. Under certain situations you may have to turn this information over to the prosecutor.
You may also be able to chose to hold the evidence back until trial to keep the element of surprise. This decision should only be made by experienced criminal defense attorneys who know the discovery rules and how the judge will interpret them.
Discovery is a complicated process, often involving many different formats of computerized data and lengthy body camera. This can lead to many continuances or delays during this phase of the case.
Step Five: Plea, Diversion, Dismissal or Set a Trial Date
After discovery is completed, the next step is to make a decision on how to proceed with the case. You may choose to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a recommendation from the prosecutor. This could be an agreement to a lesser charge or lesser sentence.
It is also possible that the prosecutor decides to refer the defendant to a diversion program. This could be a formal program with a program administrator like Fayette County, or it could be an informal probation. A criminal defense lawyer can help you understand the difference.
Another potential outcome is dismissal of the case. Many times a prosecutor will choose to dismiss a case if the evidence is insufficient or there are extenuating circumstances that explain why the defendant did what they did. A criminal defense attorney can help communicate those issues to the government.
The final option is to set a trial. Depending on the type of offense, you may have the option to choose between a bench or jury trial. A bench trial is a trial where the judge decides the verdict and a penalty. These are rare, though experienced defense attorneys will know that sometimes this may be the best option. More common are jury trials, where a jury hears the evidence and renders a verdict and punishment.
Step Six: Trial
If the case did not resolve in step five, a trial will be held. A jury trial begins with the process called voir dire. During this process the judge, prosecution, and defense attorney ask potential jurors questions about their preexisting views on issues to determine whether they are qualified to sit on the case. The prosecution and the defense attorney will have the opportunity to “strike” or remove a limited number of jurors from the panel.
The next stage is opening statement where the prosecution and defense get to give a speech or presentation and explain to the jury what they expect the evidence to be.
After opening statements, the government presents its case. It may be videos, audio recordings, live witnesses, or documents. The government has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.
After the government closes its case, the defense may present evidence, though they do not have to, as they have no burden. The defendant may testify or not. You have the right to remain silent throughout trial, and experienced criminal defense attorneys know when it is wise to testify and when not too.
After the defense closes evidence, the judge will give jury instructions, and the prosecutor and defense will make their closing arguments. The jury then deliberates. If there is a conviction, they then decided on a penalty.
Step Seven: Fine Payment, Appeal, Etc.
After the trial or plea are over, the case is not 100% complete. The defendant may have fines or court costs to pay. An attorney can help with this process. The defendant may also choose to appeal the verdict in certain cases. If the defendant is sentenced to serve time in jail, a criminal defense lawyer can help with early release motions, home incarceration motions, and work release.
If you are facing a misdemeanor case, you need experienced criminal defense attorneys on your side. Contact us today to set up a free strategy session for your misdemeanor case.