What is the difference between a Felony Case and a Misdemeanor Case?
Felony cases differ from misdemeanor cases in that felony cases involve more serious offenses and greater penalties upon conviction.
Additionally, in a misdemeanor case it is typically the police officer who signs the complaint and brings the charges against you. Whereas in a felony case, once the charge is filed, it is reviewed by either a judge at a preliminary hearing or by a grand jury.
What is a Preliminary Hearing?
A preliminary hearing is where a judge determines whether a person charged with a crime should have to go to trial. At the hearing, the state is required to produce sufficient evidence to establish that there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. Furthermore, the state has to present evidence that the defendant committed the crime. A preliminary hearing is not a hearing to determine if you are guilty or innocent. The only result of a preliminary hearing is if the case is dismissed or the case continues. At a preliminary hearing, you have the right to have an attorney present who can cross examine the police officer. Your attorney has the right to cross examine the state’s witness. The right to obtain testimony is why I prefer a preliminary hearing rather than a grand jury indictment.
What is a Grand Jury?
A grand jury is a group of citizens that hear the state’s evidence against you. The grand jury meets in secret and they only hear one side of the story– the state’s. They then decide if there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. If they decide that there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed, they return a “Bill of Indictment.” Because the grand jury is only hearing the state’s attorney’s side of the story, you are not present nor is your attorney. Most cases brought before the grand jury are returned with a bill of indictment. In other words, if your case goes before a grand jury, you will mostly likely be charged with the crime.
Handling a Felony Case:
The way a felony case is handled is similar to that of a misdemeanor case. In both cases, I will obtain all of the evidence against you. This includes police reports, witness statements, and video (DVD) evidence. Once all of it is obtained, I will review it with you. After all of the evidence is gathered, I engage in pre-trial talks with the state’s attorney. In some cases, the judge will be involved in the talks. After I have the bottom line on what offer is available, I meet with you. We review the evidence and the offer and I give you my opinion on the best course of action to take. The decision is yours. However, I will absolutely have an opinion, and I will voice that opinion.
One final note on pre-trial talks: the ability to negotiate a reduced sentence with the state attorney varies greatly between attorneys. One attorney may get you an offer of 10 years in prison while another attorney will get you probation or even the case dismissed. I take great pride in being able to obtain offers that other attorneys cannot even come close to. It is my ability to work with the state while at the same time having the state know that I am an attorney that will take a case to trial and win. I set the course of conversation by clearly stating what is acceptable.