Getting arrested is an emotional rollercoaster. It can and will affect
the rest of your life. Clients hire me with the expectation that I can
get their charges reduced or dropped. Others hire me simply to be their
voice and help them navigate their way through the court system. As a
North Georgia lawyer, I travel to various trial courts in different counties
to practice law. In my experience, while most courts have their own unique
way of operating, they all tend to follow a similar path.
An arrest triggers the beginning of the criminal procedure process. The
first court date for someone who has been arrested is arraignment. At
this time, the person arrested learns about the State charges and has
the option to plead guilty or not guilty. (In Atlanta, this court date
could be as soon as the Monday after a weekend arrest.) If the arrested
individual is planning to hire a private attorney, it is important that
they are hired prior to arraignment. This is an important date in the
criminal justice process, and one that a private attorney should attend.
Although someone who has been arrested is presumed not guilty in criminal
law, the arraignment is the first formal event in court and is also used
as a status conference to make sure the parties are on the same page,
even if everyone disagrees about the criminal charges. Additionally, an
attorney only has a few days after the arraignment court date to file
legal motions in a criminal case case, which is the reason why individuals
who have been arrested should never wait until the last minute to hire
an attorney. This is because there are certain legal motions in Georgia
that must be filed with the court within 10 days of the arraignment. Failure
to do so could have devastating consequences in criminal cases.
The next court date in a criminal case is called calendar call or pre-trial
conference. Typically, there will be far less people at this court date.
The hired attorney, or in some instances court-appointed attorney, will
meet with the prosecutor to discuss the details of the case and the plea
offer. A plea offer is a negotiated consequence given to arrested individuals
to expedite the criminal justice process. The person accepting a plea
offer may be required to plead guilty or nolo contendre in order to avoid
a trial. Generally, the plea offer is a lighter punishment than the prosecutor
believes the arrested individual will receive at trial if a jury finds
them guilty. About 95 percent of criminal cases are resolved with a plea
offer. A competent and experienced attorney understands the intricacies
associated with plea offers and is able to advise their clients of their options.
If the person who has been arrested chooses not to accept a prosecutor's
plea offer, the final court date is a trial. A trial requires the prosecutor
to prove the individual on trial is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This standard is the highest and most difficult to overcome in the court
system. Police officers, witnesses, and victims will be required to testify
at this court date and explain to a jury what the arrested individual
did or did not do. In defense of the arrested individual, the attorney
representing the accused is allowed to call witnesses on their client's
behalf or even ask the client to testify. However, it is important to
point out that individuals who have been arrested have a Constitutional
right to remain silent.
If you, a member of your family or a friend are arrested, I highly recommend
seeking assistance from a professional attorney who has the experience
to help you navigate the Georgia court system.