This is a defendant's first appearance in court where bail and conditions of release are set. At this hearing a judge may read the defendant his/her rights, the charges against them and set bail. In felony cases, a date is set for a preliminary hearing. In misdemeanors, the initial appearance is also the arraignment where the defendant enters an initial plea.
Preliminary Hearing - In felony cases, the preliminary hearing is the first hearing and comes before the arraignment. In a misdemeanor case, this order is reversed. In a felony case, at this hearing the prosecutor must call witnesses (generally law enforcement) to prove that sufficient evidence exists to believe the defendant committed a crime. Occasionally, improper police procedure, a lack or probable cause or insufficiency of testimony under cross examination may result in the dismissal of charges at this stage.
Arraignment - An Arraignment follows the preliminary hearing in a felony case but precedes it in a misdemeanor case. At this court appearance the defendant is formally charged and receives the complaint or information against him/her. The defendant is then asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest to the charge.
Pretrial Conference - A pretrial conference is exactly as it sounds, a hearing before trial. At the pretrial conference the defense attorney meets with the prosecutor to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the case and to determine if a settlement can be reached.
Motions - Oral and written motions requesting court action on legal issues may be brought prior to trial. These motions may include requests based on legal grounds to limit testimony, exclude evidence or sequester witnesses. Good defense attorneys may make or break their case strategy with such motions.
Trial - A hearing for presenting physical and testimonial evidence to a judge or jury for a determination of whether an accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or not guilty of the crime(s) charged. A defendant may be found guilty of all, some, or none of the charges. If the defendant is found guilty, s/he can then be sentenced for that crime by the judge at that time or at a later hearing; if the defendant is found not guilty of a crime, the charge is dismissed.
Know your Rights!