Felony or Misdemeanor – Both Begin With Arraignment and Preliminary Hearing

Law Firm Newswire



Lakeland, FL (Law Firm Newswire) May 26, 2015 – All crimes have one thing in common: they begin with an arraignment process and a preliminary hearing.

The law categorizes criminal offenses as felonies or misdemeanors, with misdemeanors being generally defined as lesser offenses (e.g. shop lifting, DWI) and felonies involving more serious offenses such as kidnapping or murder. Regardless of the classification of the offense, the ensuing process through the justice system to conviction or dismissal of charges is much the same, with minor differences per each jurisdiction. It all begins with an arraignment at the first appearance in court.

“The only differences a convicted offender may find throughout the system in each jurisdiction is the length of time they must serve and where they would serve their jail time,” explains Lakeland, Fla. criminal defense attorney Thomas Grajek.

In Florida, misdemeanors fall into two categories: first and second degree. First-degree misdemeanors carry a one-year sentence in county jail, while second-degree misdemeanors usually result in a 60 day sentence. For further information on Florida misdemeanors, types, jurisdiction, custody and the court process, refer to this fact sheet: http://flrc2.org/misdemeanor.html

On the first appearance in court, a prosecutor or a judge reads out any applicable charges. At that time the accused enters a plea of not guilty or guilty. The judge sets bail and if it is low enough, as it usually is for misdemeanors, the accused may return home. For serious felony charges, bail is traditionally much higher or denied, and the accused usually remains in jail until trial. The facts of each case determine what the court decides when it comes to setting bail.

“Whether or not an individual is charged with a felony or misdemeanor, they have at least one preliminary hearing prior to trial,” Grajek says. “Some states call these hearings pre-trial hearings or conferences. These hearings are the venue for outlining what witnesses are to testify for the defendant and for the prosecution.”

The felony trial process in Florida is a bit more complex, owing to the fact that there are five different chargeable categories of sentences in a state penitentiary for felonies: third degree, second degree, first degree, life felony and capital felony. To get a general overview of the Florida felony trial process, visit: http://flrc2.org/felony.html

Hearings may also act like discovery, an exchange of the documentation that each side in the matter plans to use as exhibits in court. Misdemeanor hearings are relatively straightforward. Felony hearings may involve legal arguments presented to the trial judge over what evidence may be presented at trial.
Sentencing is another matter, more often than not decided at the end of lesser misdemeanor cases. This provides the judge an opportunity to hear all relevant details of an offense prior to deciding on a sentence. A felony trial most often ends with a separate date set for sentencing. In the case of an individual charged with and convicted of a misdemeanor, the sentence is usually less than one year in a county jail. Convicted felons usually serve their sentences in a state or federal prison and serve much longer sentences than those that result from convictions for misdemeanors.

The trial process is different in each state and for this reason an accused needs an experienced criminal defense attorney to assist them in navigating the system. In felony and misdemeanor cases there is generally a choice of judgement by a jury or a single judge. However, in some states, a jury sitting for a misdemeanor trial may only have six people. Typically, 12 jurors are present for a felony trial, but that depends on the law of the state the offense is tried in. “There are some states that seat six-person juries for felonies,” adds Grajek.