What You Need to Do When Charged with a Misdemeanor

Despite minor state-by-state differences, the misdemeanor trial process is similar across the country. Here’s what to do after being charged with a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanors are criminal offenses less severe than felonies. While felonies can result in punishments of over a year of imprisonment and more severe consequences, misdemeanors can result in less than 12 months of imprisonment, community service, probation, and/or fines. The trial process after being charged with a misdemeanor may be difficult to navigate.

A Misdemeanor Trial, Broken Down

There are three main stages of the misdemeanor trial process:

  1. Arraignment and Plea
  2. Pretrial Proceedings and Hearing
  3. The Jury/Court Trial

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1. Preparing for Arraignment and Plea

The court will set an arraignment date after the defendant is charged with committing a misdemeanor. The court may hold the defendant in custody or choose to pay bail for release until this date. At the arraignment, the court informs the defendant of their rights. The court also assigns an attorney to represent the defendant if the defendant is in need at this time. Defendants should find the attorney that is best for them.

At the arraignment, the defendant also states how they plea:

  • Guilty
  • Not guilty
  • No contest

A guilty plea will result in the court issuing a punishment without a trial. If the defendant pleads not guilty or no contest, they will proceed to the next steps of the misdemeanor trial process.

Arraignments are a necessary step in the process after facing a misdemeanor charge. The most important aspect of the arraignment is the plea. Defendants should prepare to make a plea agreement or bargain to guide the rest of the trial proceedings. When delivering the plea, the defendant has the choice to be present. Defendants can also have their attorney deliver the plea on their behalf.

Related: How to Handle a California CCW Background Check

2. Preparing for Pretrial Proceedings and the Hearing

During pretrial proceedings and hearings, parties participate in discovery. Parties exchange and discuss the evidence they have, set aside complaints, discuss potentially dismissing the case, and/or suppress evidence during the hearing.

Throughout this process, the defendant may change their not guilty plea to guilty or no contest at any time at their discretion and with their attorney’s advice. The defendant does not need to participate in the discussions surrounding evidence during pretrial proceedings.

3. Preparing for the Trial

The court may try a defendant’s misdemeanor charges in a jury or court trial. Juries of one’s peers decide jury trials. Judges decide court trials. In most cases, judges decide the ultimate punishment for misdemeanor trials with a guilty verdict.

A defendant must prepare to speak in their defense.

FAQs About Being Charged With a Misdemeanor

Can a misdemeanor be tried as a felony? Can a felony be reduced to a misdemeanor?

Some crimes may be “wobblers” depending on a defendant’s previous criminal history (or lack thereof). Some felonies may be charged as misdemeanors while some misdemeanors may be charged as felonies. The judge decides the type of charge on a case-by-case basis emphasizing context, the defendants’ background, and the larger nature of the offense.

How do you know the best way to plead?

Defendants must be honest with themselves and their counsels. After speaking with their attorney, a defendant must work with their counsel to decide the best way to plead depending on their unique circumstances.

Should I plead guilty to avoid the trouble/costs even if I’m innocent?

Though cost, time, and other personal potential issues one might have may incline an innocent defendant to plead guilty, aid is available for those who believe a trial would be too much of a burden. Everyone has the right to a fair and just trial, and resources exist to ensure that.

What do I do if I feel like the results of the trial are unfair?

If a defendant feels as if the results of their trial are unfair, they may appeal trial decisions to their state’s Appellate Department of the Superior Court.

How will a guilty conviction affect me later on in life?

Though a guilty verdict may go on one’s permanent public record, many resources can help people with some criminal background. Moving forward and continuing to do one’s best is the most important step one can take following a misdemeanor charge and guilty verdict.

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If you or a loved one would like to learn more about being Charged With Misdemeanor, get your free consultation with one of our Employment Attorneys today!