A misdemeanor is any crime where the maximum punishment is a year or less of incarceration. Depending on the misdemeanor you can be tried in a District Court or Justice Court. If you are charged with a Felony or a Class A misdemeanor than your case will be handled in the District court. If you are charged with a Class B or C misdemeanor; or an infraction, then your case will be handled in the justice court. A class A misdemeanor is the most serious level of misdemeanor crimes, and with it you can be facing a punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. A class B misdemeanor is punishable with up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. A class C misdemeanor is punishable with up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $750. Most first time offenders of a misdemeanor won’t serve any jail time but every case is unique and has the risk of the punishments listed above. Because you can be tried in a district court or justice court depending on the misdemeanor it’s important to understand the differences between the two settings.
In the district court your first hearing is an initial appearance, during the initial appearance you are provided with an information which will state what the statute is that you are being accused of violating and the charges against you. During the initial appearance there will also be a determination of bail and whether there should be any other pre-trial orders put in place. The most common pre-trial order is a no contact order to order you to not have contact with your alleged victim. The next step in the district court process is to have a scheduling conference hearing. A scheduling conference allows the defense and the prosecution to meet together to see if there is a possible resolution for the case. Possible resolutions are having the charges dismissed, the accused accepting the charges, or the accused pleading guilty to lesser charges. If during the scheduling conference the case cannot be resolved than a date for a preliminary hearing will be set. A defendant has the ability to waive his right to a preliminary hearing but it is a good opportunity to hear what evidence the state has to prove the charges against you as a defendant. A preliminary hearing is where the prosecution presents evidence to the court to show that the state has enough evidence to go to trial. If the court feels that the state does not have enough evidence to continue to trial than the court can dismiss the charges against you. Having your charges dismissed after a preliminary hearing is rare, and the majority of the time the state can prove sufficient evidence to overcome the preliminary hearing threshold.
After a preliminary hearing in the district court the next hearing is an arraignment. The process in the district court has more depth than the justice court because the punishments are potentially stronger. but the arraignment hearing is where the processes for the district court and the justice court come together. The arraignment is a hearing that is further down the process in the district court but is the first hearing in the justice court. The arraignment is where you enter your plea. A plea is your official answer to the charges the state is accusing you of, typical answers to the state’s charges are either guilty, not guilty or no contest.
The next step in the criminal process in Utah is the pre-trial conference hearing. At the pre-trial conference hearing, you and your attorney have a much better idea of what evidence the state has to meet their burden and prove their case. If your case is being heard by the justice court than this is your first opportunity for your case to be resolved. If your case is being heard in the district court than this is another opportunity for your attorney and prosecution to get together to discuss the case. Remember your case may be resolved at any time either throughout this process through a dismissal or a plea agreement.
If you have ever seen a Law and Order episode than you are probably familiar with the pre-trial motion stage and beyond. The pre-trial motion stage is where you or your attorney will file motions with the court to try and exclude certain pieces of evidence. Basically, your motion will argue that certain evidence that the state will try and present should not be admitted to the jury for review. The motion argues that the jury should not see the evidence because the state did not follow proper procedure and/or the admittance of this evidence would violate your constitutional rights. This is the point in the law and order episode where either a weapon, video, or some other type of evidence is excluded, and the evidence will not be allowed to be presented to the jury. If the evidence is a crucial part of the state’s case, the case may even be dismissed.
At this point if your case is being heard by the district court than your case has been through an investigation, screened for charges, an initial appearance, a scheduling conference, a preliminary hearing, an arraignment, a pre-trial conference, and finally pre-trial motions. In the justice court your case has been through an investigation, screened for charges, an arraignment, a pre-trial conference, and finally pre-trial motions. During this process you should be learning more and more about the case against you and what defenses you may have. Your attorney should be actively engaged in finding out as many facts as possible to determine your best possible defenses. After all the pre-trial motions have been filed, you will then receive a trial date where the state will have to prove the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. After the trial is where a jury of your peers will decide if the state has met its burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury decides that the state has not met its burden than you will be found not guilty and you will be able to resume your life. If you are found guilty then the judge will sentence you. There are several possible sentences that may be imposed by the judge. Sentencing may include everything from restitution, drug treatment, jail time, probation, or a fine. After the dismissal or sentencing your trial court level of your case is complete. As you can see the criminal process can by lengthy and is very complicated, it’s important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible to make sure your rights are being protected and asserted correctly.
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