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Forms
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Being accused of a criminal or serious traffic offense can be a traumatic and upsetting experience. We hope this will be of help in guiding you through the process and take some of the mystery out of the "procedures." We have tried to answer and anticipate your more frequently asked questions. If you have any additional questions, don't hesitate to ask a staff member.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR AND HOW SHOULD I ACT IN COURT?
Suitable attire is required. Shoes and shirts are necessary. Halter tops, tank tops, and shorts are not permitted. Hats are to be removed upon entering the courtroom. No smoking, food or drink will be allowed. Children may be present in the courtroom. However, if they disturb the proceedings you may be requested to remove them. The Court does not provide child care. Upon your arrival, find your name on the calendar outside the courtroom and then have a seat in the proper courtroom until the session convenes. You do not need to check with the clerk unless your name is NOT on the list. When your name is called, come forward and stand behind one of the counsel tables. Be polite, courteous, and remain standing until instructed otherwise by the judge.
WHAT IS AN ARRAIGNMENT?
The arraignment is generally your first appearance in court on the citation or charge. The judge will inform you of, and explain the charge. Next, it will be confirmed that you understand your constitutional rights as explained at the beginning of the court session, and finally, the maximum punishment and mandatory minimum punishment, if any, will be stated. No testimony is taken nor is evidence presented at the arraignment.
WHAT ARE MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS?
All persons accused of any crime or traffic offense that might result in a jail sentence have the following rights:
1. To have a lawyer present with you at all hearings.
2. To have a lawyer appointed at public expense if you cannot afford to hire one to represent you.
3. To represent yourself without a lawyer.
4. To a public and speedy trial.
5. To cross examine any witness who testifies against you.
6. To call witnesses to testify on your behalf, and have the Court compel their attendance.
7. To testify or not testify yourself. If you choose not to, no one can make you testify.
8. To appeal to Superior Court if you are convicted after a not guilty plea.
SHOULD I TALK TO A LAWYER BEFORE ENTERING A PLEA?
In many cases this is a good idea. The judge, at your request, will continue the arraignment. If you wish to plead not guilty at this stage, the judge will request that you have your lawyer put in a "Notice of Appearance" within seven (7) days. If at any hearing you fail to appear, your bond or bail will be forfeited and the judge will issue a bench warrant.
IF I AM FINANCIALLY UNABLE TO HIRE A LAWYER, HOW DO I QUALIFY FOR A PUBLIC DEFENDER?
At the arraignment indicate to the judge that you are unable financially to hire a lawyer. The judge will request that you fill out a financial affidavit and will call you up again at the end of the arraignment calendar. At that point the judge will review the affidavit form and determine, according to the appropriate financial guideline, your eligibility for a public defender. If you qualify, the in-court clerk will have you sign an agreement acknowledging potential liability for the lawyer fees if your financial situation changes. The clerk will give you a form with the address and phone number of the public defender. YOU must contact the public defender immediately for an appointment and be available for all meetings as requested by the lawyer.
IF I PLEAD GUILTY, WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
If you plead guilty, it means you admit the charge and the elements to prove the charge. By pleading guilty, you waive your constitutional rights and, in most cases, you will be sentenced right then. However, you may speak on your behalf at sentencing. The judge will then usually review the police report, if available, and sentence you. In some cases the judge will refer you to a probation officer for a pre-sentence investigation. In such a case the sentencing will be continued until the probation report is ready.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I PLEAD NOT GUILTY?
A not guilty plea denies the charge and none of your constitutional rights are waived unless you expressly wish to do so. You are presumed innocent and the prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at a subsequent trial. The next hearing will be a pre-jury conference where the prosecutor will be present. You and your lawyer, if you have one, are required to be present. At this conference all motions are heard and a jury trial date is set. Information about all the evidence in the case and witness names are exchanged. If at any stage you have waived your right to a jury trial, you will receive a notice in the mail of your NON-JURY TRIAL date.
WHAT MUST I DO IF I CAN'T PAY ALL OF MY FINE TODAY?
If you can't pay all of your fine at sentencing, the judge or clerk will work out a time payment agreement. This is a contract with the court for installment payments and must be adhered to strictly. Read the contract carefully, as failure to follow the contract can result in late fees, a suspension of your driver's license, a bench warrant, or assignment to a collection agency.
WHAT IS A SUSPENDED SENTENCE?
Often the judge will suspend imposition of a portion, or all, of a jail sentence or fine on the condition of complying with various conditions within a time limit. If the conditions are satisfied, the jail sentence is never served. If the conditions are violated, then you will be required to return to the Court for a hearing and possible serving of the jail sentence or payment of the suspended fine. In many cases the conditions are supervised by the Probation Department who will monitor compliance or assist with required programs.