When someone is accused of a misdemeanor, the process usually starts with the person being cited or arrested for some type of crime, such as DUI or drug possession. If they are arrested, they will have the opportunity to post bail, usually through a bail bondsman, unless they can post the full cash bail themselves.
If the person is cited, rather than arrested, the officer or the jail will hand them a citation or a ticket and schedule a day to appear in court. Similarly, if a bail bondsman bailed the person out, they give the person a date to appear in court.
The first court date is typically for the arraignment or the filing of the complaint, and the person would find out then whether or not the district attorney will be filing charges against them and what those charges will be.
The First Hearing
Sometimes, when the person arrives for their first court date, the district attorney may tell them they are still investigating the case, so they don’t know whether or not they will file charges yet, and they may ask the person to come back in another 30 or 60 days. This is common in domestic violence cases.
On the other hand, the person might arrive in court on that first appearance only to find out the DA decided not to file any charges. Most commonly, when someone comes to court for a misdemeanor, the district attorney’s office will have already prepared to file a case similar to whatever the person was cited or arrested for.
At that first appearance, the judge will want to know if the person will be representing themselves, if they plan to hire a private attorney, or if they might need the assistance of the public defender.
After The First Hearing
Once the attorney situation is straightened out, the person then will proceed to the arraignment, which simply advises the person of the charges against them and their constitutional rights regarding the case. The person may or may not enter a not guilty plea at that time or choose to put off entering a plea.
Typically, at the first appearance after a misdemeanor complaint is filed, the attorney will receive a copy of the police report and ask the judge to set the case out a few weeks for a settlement conference. This time gives the attorney and the accused an opportunity to review the police report and order any additional discovery or evidence that might be needed and to allow them to conduct their own investigation prior to coming back at the next court date.
The Settlement Conference
The settlement conference is usually the next court date after the arraignment. In most cases, the district attorney and the defense attorney have spoken before then to negotiate a possible resolution, so the district attorney will usually make some sort of offer to resolve the case. At that point, the defendant can accept that offer, make a counter offer, or reject that offer completely and move toward trial.
There can sometimes be several settlement conferences before a case is ultimately resolved, and sometimes either side might tell the judge they need more time to prepare or discuss the case before they reach resolution. Or, they may decide to set the case for trial if it’s apparent that no resolution can be reached.
The next stage will be to set the case for a trial by either a judge or jury (a jury trial is better). The judge will then select the trial date and usually a readiness conference date just a few days before that trial to see if there is a possible last minute resolution or to see if the trial should be moved for any reason.
How Long Do Misdemeanor Cases Take?
In order to have time to collect evidence, order discovery and not be rushed in the trial, the typical misdemeanor case can take anywhere from 1 to 6 months, depending on the complexity.