The Criminal Process in Atlanta, Fulton and Surrounding Counties.
The criminal justice system can be complex and intimidating, particularly if you are under arrest or even merely under investigation for a crime. Regardless of whether you believe you did or did not do anything illegal, it is in your best interests not to speak with anyone – including police officers, jail staff, investigators, or anyone else – without first consulting an attorney experienced in criminal defense matters. Georgia criminal defense lawyer David Schnipper can advise you of your options and discuss your rights, ensuring that your best interests are always protected.
Arrest and First Appearance
A criminal case begins with an arrest, either at a crime scene or later with a warrant. With limited exceptions, police must have a warrant issued by a magistrate judge in order to arrest a person suspected of a crime if time has elapsed since the crime occurred.
Most people are familiar with the phrase, “You have the right to remain silent . . .” but few understand the scope of that right when it is most important. When a person is taken into police custody, the police are required to inform him or her of these rights (called Miranda rights, for the Supreme Court case that established the requirement). These rights include:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.
- If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
- Knowing and understanding your rights as I (police officer) have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
If you were arrested and the police did not clearly inform you of these rights, or you did not understand them, Georgia criminal defense attorney David Schnipper can mount an aggressive defense to fight any charges against you.
Once the police have read your rights, you must explicitly and unambiguously invoke them. That is, you must say to the police during or before an interrogation begins that you wish to be silent and not speak to the police without an attorney present. Failure to explicitly invoke your rights may result in you saying something incriminating that can be used as evidence against you.
Preliminary Hearing/Probable Cause Hearing
Within a few days of being arrested, you may go before a judge who decides whether to set bail and the amount if set. If you do not post bond and have not yet been indicted by a grand jury, you can request a preliminary hearing/probable cause hearing, which allows you to hear what evidence the prosecution has against you and potentially challenge the warrant as lacking probable cause. You are not entitled to a preliminary hearing/probable cause hearing if you have already been indicted or if you are already out on bond.
Accusation or Indictment
The District Attorney’s office or the Solicitor-General’s office files criminal charges against you through an accusation or an indictment. In an accusation, the prosecutor or solicitor files the charge directly with the court and is permissible only for certain types of crimes: drug offenses (except drug trafficking), forgery, identity fraud, credit card fraud, theft, and all misdemeanor offenses. All other offenses must first be presented to the grand jury for indictment. An indictment is the result of a grand jury finding that there is probable cause for criminal charges. The alleged defendant is not entitled to be present at the grand jury hearing.
Arraignment and Pre-Trial Motions
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to counsel at the arraignment and other “critical stages” of criminal proceedings. It is in your best interests to exercise this right, as your attorney can ensure that you understand the consequences of your case and the charges brought against you.
After the accusation or indictment is the arraignment. After the arraignment, in most cases the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, and you have 10 days to file any pre-trial motions.
If neither the alleged offender nor his or her attorney appears at the arraignment, the judge will usually issue a bench warrant for the alleged offender’s arrest. Some judges do not permit an alleged offender to post bond after a failure to appear at the arraignment. If the alleged offender pleads not guilty at the arraignment, the judge will eventually put you on the pre-trial calendar and ultimately schedule a date for the trial. The time between the arraignment and the trial date is called the pre-trial stage. During this time, both sides may file pre-trial motions, usually in order to exclude harmful evidence from being admitted during the trial. The judge will rule on these motions before the jury is impaneled (or before the judge hears the case, if the defendant opted to have a bench trial rather than a jury trial).
If the defendant pleaded guilty, the defense and prosecution may enter into either a negotiated plea or a non-negotiated plea (also known as a “blind plea”) at any time before the trial date.
A negotiated plea is one that is favorable to the defendant, and is the result of the defendant’s attorney’s negotiations with the prosecution. In contrast, a non-negotiated plea may be offered in the discretion of the court and permits the judge to determine the defendant’s sentence without a jury trial. A defendant who agrees to a pre-negotiated plea can generally expect a significantly lighter sentence than he or she would receive if a jury returns a guilty verdict.
If your case goes to trial, you can decide whether you want a jury trial or a bench trial (where the judge hears the evidence and issues the ruling). Again, an experienced attorney can advise you of which option is likely to result in a more favorable outcome to you. Attorney Schnipper has worked for two District Attorney’s offices and understands the nuances of how prosecutors assemble and argue their cases. He will put this knowledge to use in representing you and defending your freedom.
A jury trial begins with the selection of the jurors, known voir dire. During jury selection, both the prosecutor or solicitor and the defense attorney may ask questions of the potential jurors and/or the jury pool as a whole, in order to determine the jurors who will ultimately serve on the panel.
The trial usually begins with both sides giving their opening statements. The prosecutor or solicitor begins with its case-in-chief, calling any witnesses to support the case. The defense has the opportunity to cross-examine any of the prosecutor or solicitor’s witnesses and then present its own case-in-chief and defense witnesses. The defendant is presumed innocent, and the prosecution must prove each element of the alleged offense or offenses, “Beyond a reasonable doubt.”
If the jury reaches a guilty verdict, a separate sentencing hearing will determine the defendant’s punishment. At this hearing, the defendant’s attorney may present any evidence that could mitigate the circumstances of the crime and reduce the sentence. Mitigating evidence can include:
- Family support or responsibilities,
- Charitable acts,
- Whether the defendant was coerced or deceived into committing the offense, and
- The defendant’s role in the offense.
If the defendant believes the conviction was unfair or unlawful, he or she can appeal the decision to have it reviewed by a higher court. However, an appeal may only be based on a legal error, for example, improperly introducing harmful evidence or incorrectly instructing the jury.
Call Attorney David Schnipper for Skilled Criminal Defense
Whether are you are facing charges of domestic violence, drug offenses, traffic offenses, or any other crime in Georgia, attorney David Schnipper can help. Merely being charged with a criminal offense can negatively affect your personal and professional life, and a misstep during the proceedings can make things even more difficult to mend. Attorney Schnipper understands how intimidating the criminal process can be for someone accused of a crime and makes himself available to his clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact Attorney Schnipper online or call (404) 983-6051 to schedule your free consultation.