Court hearings are typically open to anyone who wants to attend them. A key question that is always asked is whether a defendant has been informed about their legal rights at every step of a hearing process; this includes being informed about charges, representation options, plea options, and maximum penalties.
The purpose of a hearing is to determine whether a defendant committed the crime with which they have been charged. If such a determination is made, the court will then decide on an appropriate sentence, if any.
A hearing in court may be held before a magistrate or judge, and sometimes before a jury of one’s peers. Hearings are called trials when prosecutors have elected to proceed by indictment or case stated. Some hearings in court, such as bench trials and sentencing do not require a jury.
Steps to a Hearing in Court Include;
1. Presenting the Charges
This is typically done by a prosecutor and can be done at an arraignment or bail hearing. It can also include an arraignment after the charges have been filed, but before any trial begins. The charges are typically read by a court official, and the defendant will then be given the opportunity to plea.
2. Presenting a Defense
This can be done by both the prosecution and defense, or only by the defendant. If a defendant is charged with multiple crimes, several defenses may be presented. The defense will often call witnesses to attest to the defendant’s character, history, and/or intoxication level at the time of their alleged crime(s). The defense may also call expert witnesses such as an expert in alcohol consumption to testify on their client’s state of mind.
3. Notifying the Defendant of Their Right to a Lawyer
This is done by informing the defendant of their right to counsel, and that they cannot be compelled to give evidence or submit to questioning unless they have a lawyer present. This notification can be given at an arraignment or bail hearing.
4. Taking of Oaths
This is done by the defendant if they have elected to give evidence on their behalf, or by a witness if they are testifying in court. The court clerk may ask the witness to raise their right hand and state “I solemnly swear that I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
5. Examination and Cross-examination of Witnesses
The prosecution may call witnesses such as victims or police officers to testify against a defendant. The defendant may then cross-examine these witnesses to get more information or clarity. The defendant has the right to call witnesses and give evidence as well, and these witnesses may be asked questions by both the prosecution and defense.
The jury will decide on whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty of the crime(s) committed. If a jury decides that the defendant is guilty, the jury will decide on how severe of a punishment the defendant should receive for their crime(s). It is the jury’s job to find the facts and make a decision on guilt or innocence.
After deliberation, the jury will present a verdict to both parties and the judge. The verdict may include a finding of not guilty. This means that there was no evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, a jury can convict based on circumstantial or “reasonable doubt.
The purpose of sentencing is to determine how serious a crime has been committed, and how severe the penalties will be for that crime. If a conviction for a misdemeanor is heard by a judge, then sentencing will usually be handled in open court at this point. If a conviction for a felony is heard by a judge, then sentencing will more often be handled at the county jail.
This is the process of going from the initial hearing in court to an appellate court if a defendant believes their rights have been violated. This can be done through an appeal to a higher court such as a state supreme court or circuit court, or it can be done through a direct appeal to the federal, municipal courts or state courts.
The Sentence May Include;
If probation has been entered into, the judge may decide that probation should be granted to the defendant. Probation is typically for a set period (typically between 3 and 12 months), and includes requirements such as restitution to victims, staying out of trouble, mental health evaluations, and drug/alcohol counseling/treatment programs. If probation is revoked, this will often take place during the sentencing process.
A fine may be imposed upon a defendant if convicted of a misdemeanor. If convicted of a felony, the judge may impose a fine. A fine may be up to $250 for misdemeanors and up to $500 for felonies.
3. Jail Time
If a felony is committed, the defendant may be sentenced to jail time. The length of jail time a defendant receives is contingent on the severity of their crime and/or their criminal history. If a defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor, they may face jail time depending on the judge’s discretion. A conviction for a misdemeanor can have up to one year in jail. Jail time is typically measured in months.
4. Probation With jail Time
Another option is for a judge to order probation for a certain amount of time, and also require that the defendant spend a certain amount of time in jail (often at the county jail). If a defendant is sentenced to probation with jail time, they may be granted “shock time” credit which means they can serve their jail sentence while on probation. Shock time credit can range from 5 days to 180 days depending on the severity of the offense.
This can include confining a defendant to their home or confining the defendant to the county jail. A judge may decide that a defendant should be confined to their home if they are found guilty of an offense while they are living in one location, and may order that they be confined to their home for up to 2 years. If a judge sentences a defendant to confinement in the county jail, this can range from 30 days to 5 years depending on the severity of the offense.
Hearing in court has a great deal of structure. The proceedings are conducted civilly and the rules of evidence are generally followed to the letter. Hearsay is typically not allowed in court and all testimony must be based on personal knowledge. Because of this, hearsay evidence cannot be admitted during the trial.