Court Appearances

If you are arrested or charged with a crime, there may be multiple instances where you may have to appear in court. Here's what you need to know about court appearances.

What is a bail hearing?

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, the court may schedule a bail hearing before releasing you from jail. A bail hearing is your opportunity to ask the judge to release you from jail until your trial.

In most cases, a bail hearing occurs 24-48 hours after the arrest. At the hearing, the judge will consider your release, explain the charges against you, and set a bail amount. The conditions of your release will depend on your criminal history and flight risk.

If the judge decides to let you go, the next step will be setting the amount of the bail. The amount is up to the judge’s discretion at an amount that will please the judge that you will return to court. If the bail is too high your lawyer can ask that it be reduced.

In more serious cases, the jail does not have a specified bail for the type of crime you have been charged with. Instead, your lawyer must file a motion to request a bail hearing and you must go before the judge and ask to be released. The judge will set a bail amount.

The judge can also deny your request for bail. In that case, you can appeal the decision, or request a new bail hearing.

If you're released on bail, you must be careful not to violate the judge’s conditions. Otherwise, you will lose the bail amount and end up in jail until trial.

What is an arraignment?

The initial court appearance for a petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor is an arraignment. If you did not have a bail hearing, an arraignment is your first appearance in court. You can appear with a private attorney, apply for a public defender, or represent yourself.

For misdemeanors, the arraignment takes place before a judge of a lower court. The judge reads the charge(s) and explains the penalties to the defendant. The judge will advise the defendant of his or her right to trial, and right to trial by jury.

Next, the judge explains the defendant's right to counsel. If the defendant requests and qualifies for a public defender, the judge will appoint a lawyer.

The defendant then enters a plea. If the defendant requests or retains private counsel, the judge will enter a not guilty plea. If the defendant enters a not guilty plea, a trial date and bail amount will be set. If you enter a not guilty plea, you can change it at a later court hearing. The same is not true for entering a guilty plea. Once you enter a guilty plea, the only way to undo it is to make a motion to withdraw your plea and hope the court grants it.

If the defendant pleads guilty, a sentencing date will be set or the judge will set probation and fines. Sometimes bail and conditions of release are set. If the case isn't resolved, the judge will schedule a pre-trial or omnibus hearing.

The process is similar for felony charges, but there is an extra preliminary hearing. This is a safeguard warranted by the serious nature of the charges.

For felonies and gross misdemeanors, the court does not ask for a plea at the first appearance. They will identify you and make sure you are aware of the charges against you and your legal rights. This includes the right to a preliminary hearing, trial and trial by jury in court. Then, depending on the county, they will advance your case to a Rule 8 Hearing or an Omnibus Hearing. The judge will determine whether to hold you in jail while the case is pending. If conditions of release were not set before, then the court will also address those.

The judge then explains the right to counsel and the defendant may apply for a public defender. The judge appoints a lawyer if the defendant requests one and cannot afford a private lawyer.

What is an omnibus or pre-trial hearing?

An omnibus hearing is a pretrial hearing held after an arraignment. The purpose of the hearing is to avoid many court appearances.

At the hearing, an omnibus form is presented to the judge. An Omnibus Hearing Form is a checklist of items that the court wants to know about. The form will include any issues that remain in the case, such as missing evidence.

The parties also have to let the judge know if there are any anticipated pretrial motions. Sometimes there are motions to add aggravating factors or allegations. The defense might file a motion to suppress the evidence or file a motion to suppress a confession.

In felony and gross misdemeanor cases, the omnibus hearing is the first time the court will ask for a plea. Before you do so, a plea offer is usually made for you to consider.

The pretrial hearing is an opportunity for lawyers and prosecutors to discuss a plea. They must also prove that there is probable cause to believe the suspect committed the crime.

If the court finds there is no probable cause, it will dismiss the case.

If the court finds there is probable cause, the judge will set a trial date. Many courts use the term bound over, as "the defendant is bound over to the district or circuit court for trial."

In the state of Minnesota, offenders may be eligible to take part in a diversion program to avoid jail. Pretrial diversion occurs after charging the defendant, but before trial. During a diversion program, participants may receive counseling, rehabilitation, and other programs.

In misdemeanor cases, the Pre-Trial Hearing takes place after the arraignment. At this hearing, the prosecution makes a plea offer. This can sometimes happen on the day of the pretrial hearing or before the hearing even takes place.

Before you get to your Pre-Trial Hearing, the discovery in your case should be complete. This means that all the evidence the prosecutor has should be turned over to your lawyer. This evidence should help you determine whether to file any motions in your case.

If you decide to challenge an issue, you can ask the court at the pre-trial hearing to schedule a motion hearing. Some courts may call this an evidentiary hearing or a Rasmussen hearing. If you don't challenge a pretrial issue, you can either plead guilty based on your plea negotiation or plead guilty to the judge and allow them to determine your sentence. If you don't want to challenge a pretrial issue and don't wish to plead guilty, you can schedule a trial date.

In gross misdemeanor and felony cases, the court may schedule the pretrial after the omnibus hearing. This is to give the parties an opportunity to reach a settlement. It also gives the parties another opportunity to hash out any issues in the case leading up to trial.

What is a contested omnibus hearing?

At a Contested Omnibus hearing, a judge decides defense pretrial motions after a contested evidentiary hearing. A Contested Omnibus Hearing may also be called a Motion Hearing, Evidentiary Hearing, or Rasmussen Hearing.

The defense attorney will review evidence and identify legal issues that could help the defendant at a pretrial hearing.

When police get evidence by violating the law, a judge won’t allow it. A judge can order the prosecution evidence suppressed. If a judge suppresses illegal evidence, the government can’t use it at trial.

The defense lawyer can challenge the admissibility of prosecution whether it’s a felony, gross misdemeanor, or misdemeanor charge.

In a “contested” hearing, lawyers question witnesses, present evidence and argue the law.

The other side contests some evidence. But other evidence may come into the hearing record uncontested.

What is a court or bench trial?

A Court Trial, or Bench Trial, is a trial in front of a judge. Instead of having a trial by jury, you may choose to have your case decided by a judicial officer. In petty misdemeanor cases and juvenile matters, you do not have a right to a jury trial and may only have a Court Trial. If the juvenile case was EJJ (extended juvenile jurisdiction) or certified to adult court, you can choose a trial by jury. In misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony cases, you have the right to a jury.

A trial is the end of your case at the district court level. The conclusion of the trial will determine your fate in the case- guilty or not guilty. When you choose to have a Court Trial, you're saying you want the judge to determine whether you are guilty or not. All trial rights apply, such as the right to remain silent, cross examine witnesses, and call witnesses in your defense. The parties may make opening statements, call witnesses, and make closing arguments. The rules of evidence also apply in the same manner as a jury trial. At the end of some Court Trials, the judge may allow written closing arguments and issue a decision at a later date.

Many people choose to have a Court Trial because they don't believe they will get a fair jury to hear their case. They may also believe that they have a unique legal issue that is better analyzed by a judge. Furthermore, they may think that they have a very favorable judge. The defendant holds the power to decide whether to have a Bench Trial or a trial by jury. But it is crucial to have discussions with your lawyer about what type of trial is right for your case.

A common reason to decline a Court Trial is that you would rather have more than one person decide your fate. During a jury trial, the case needs to be proven to a jury of six or twelve people and all jurors have to agree. At a Court Trial, the prosecution only needs to persuade one person – the judge.

What is a Jury Trial?

A jury trial is the last stage in a criminal case at the district court level. If all other avenues have been exhausted and the defense and prosecution cannot come to an agreement, you have the right to a trial by jury.

Any charge punishable by possible imprisonment gives you a right to jury trial. Thus, in misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony offenses, you can decide to have a trial by jury. In petty misdemeanor cases, which don't have possible jail time, you only have the right to a Court Trial.

In misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases, a jury of six will hear the trial. In felony matters, a jury of twelve will decide the outcome. At the outset of the trial is jury selection. This is a process where the judge, defense attorney, and prosecutor determine whether any jurors have biases that would prevent them from trying a case fairly. The defense attorney and prosecutor will strike possible jurors from the panel. The defense attorney gets five strikes and the prosecutor gets three. They may also challenge a possible juror's cause to get them removed from the panel.

Once the jury is selected and sworn in to hear the case, the prosecutor will make an opening statement followed by the defense. Then, the prosecutor will present its case to the jury. This will include witnesses and evidence to persuade the jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney may also cross examine each prosecution witness.

At the end of the prosecution’s case, the defense attorney may call witnesses and present evidence in support of their argument. They don't have to call any witnesses. The defendant has the right to remain silent during the trial and isn't forced to testify.

At the end of the defense’s case, the process generally proceeds to closing arguments. This is the time for each side to argue why the jury should rule in their favor. The prosecutor will start with its closing argument followed by the defense. At the end of the defense’s closing argument, the prosecutor may make a rebuttal closing argument. At that time, the judge will give the jury any final instructions before they leave to decide the outcome.

The jury must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury determines the prosecution didn't prove its case, the defendant is found not guilty. If the jury can't agree, the jury is hung, and the judge may determine a mistrial or encourage the jurors to keep deliberating. If a mistrial is the end result, the prosecution may decide to re-try the case.

How many jurors do I get at trial?

If you're charged with a petty misdemeanor, a judge will decide your case. This is a court trial. If you're charged with a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, you may have either a jury of six peers or a court trial. If you're charged with a felony, you may have either a jury of 12 peers or a court trial. You and your lawyer will decide together what is best for your case.

What are my rights at trial?

At trial, you have the right to either remain silent or testify on your own behalf. If you decide not to testify, this is not an admission of guilt; no one can comment on the fact that you chose to stay silent. You're also allowed to cross-examine the state's witnesses and subpoena your own witnesses. Finally, you're presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury must render a unanimous verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty." If a unanimous verdict isn't reached, the judge may declare a hung jury, and a new trial would then take place.

If you've been arrested or charged with a crime, get a criminal defense consultation with Bruno Law by selecting the link below or call 763-545-7900 for more information or to make an appointment.