The Court Process for Domestic Violence
1. The Arraignment.
The first stage of the court process is called an arraignment. If you were arrested and held in jail and did not make bail, you have probably already been arraigned. If you were bailed out before seeing a judge, you will usually be given an arraignment date at the time of your release. If you were not arrested, you will likely receive an arraignment date in the mail.
The arraignment is the official start of the criminal proceedings against you. You must personally appear at an arraignment on a domestic violence charge. Unlike with other types of charges, an arraignment cannot be waived in a domestic violence case.
At the arraignment, you will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you have an attorney, your attorney will enter a plea for you. The court will then decide whether you should remain out of custody while the case proceeds or whether you should be held in jail. The court will also likely enter a no-contact order against you, prohibiting you from having contact with the alleged victim in the matter.
Sometimes it is possible to avoid the entry of a no-contact order if you get an attorney involved soon enough. This is very important, as most of the time a no-contact order will prohibit you from going home. After conditions of release have been set, the court will set dates for a pre-trial hearing and a jury trial hearing.
2. The Pre-Trial Hearing
The Pre-Trial hearing (sometimes called a readiness hearing) is usually held from 2-8 weeks after the arraignment, depending on the court. It is very important that you have an attorney no later that your pre-trial date. The pre-trial date usually involves negotiating points of law and even the possible settlement of your case. It is also sometimes possible to ask to have the no-contact order dropped at your pre-trial date. This again varies by court.
If your case is not resolved at your pre-trial date, you may have another pre-trial date set to work out further legal issues. A motion date may also be set to hear evidence and have argument about factors in your case. Your case can also be confirmed for trial at your pre-trial. Again, appearance is mandatory at a pre-trial date in domestic violence cases.
3. Motion Hearing
Not every case will proceed to a motion hearing. Motion hearings may be held for the following purposes:
- To determine the admissibility of statements you may have made to the police
- To determine if the police violated your Miranda rights
- To try and dismiss your case if the police arrested you without probable cause
- To suppress evidence illegally seized by the police
- To suppress evidence based upon the police illegally entering your residence
- To compel the prosecution to turn over evidence that tends to show you are not guilty
If your case does proceed to motion, your attorney will decide whether or not you need to testify. This is a very important decision because in some types of motions what you say may be able to be used against you later by the prosecutor at your trial.
If your case proceeds to trial it will likely be by a jury of 6 persons, 12 persons if it is a felony charge. You have the right to waive your right to a jury trial and instead be tried by a judge only. In some situations a judge trial may be advisable, but in most situations a jury trial is preferred. It will be for you and your attorney to decide which is the better course in your case.
You should always start out by requesting a jury trial as you can later waive your right if your attorney thinks your case is better tried to a judge. The prosecution has to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. All jurors have to agree that you are guilty for a guilty verdict to enter. If all agree that you are not guilty then a not guilty verdict will enter. If the jurors cannot agree, a mistrial will be declared and it will be up to the prosecutor to decide whether or not you will be re-tried.
For more information about what to expect during the court process, contact an experienced domestic violence defense attorney today.
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