Misdemeanor charges in Ohio are handled by the municipal courts and county district courts specially set up to handle only misdemeanor cases. A misdemeanor charge differs from a felony charge in that even the most severe misdemeanor charge only carries the potential of six months incarceration. Misdemeanor cases begin with either an arrest and/or a written citation. A written citation for a misdemeanor can be mailed to an address and it will notify a person of when they need to be in court for their initial appearance.
The arraignment for a misdemeanor case is basically the same as an arraignment in a felony case. A person is put on notice what the charges are against them and enters a plea of not guilty. If a person has not hired an attorney the court will inquire as to whether they can afford an attorney. If they can, the court will set a new date called a pretrial date and expect that the person will report at that date with his or her attorney. If a person cannot afford an attorney the court will review the person’s financial status to determine whether they eligible for the services of a public defender. If you have received a misdemeanor criminal complaint you may hire our office prior to that initial appearance and we will take care of the initial appearance saving you from rescheduling or having to miss work.
A Pretrial conference is generally held in all municipal courts in Ohio. This is an opportunity for your attorney and the prosecutor to discuss the case and see if a settlement can be reached without further litigation. In our office, more than 90% of all cases are resolved at this pretrial conference. We believe that a quick and efficient resolution of client matters helps defray the cost of litigation and gives security and peace of mind to our clients. If a resolution is reached at the pretrial then, in most courts, the case can be terminated on that same day.
If a resolution was not reached at the pretrial conference, pretrial litigation, as in a felony case, will occur. This consists of a number of items including your attorney challenging the legality of your arrest and challenging the evidence that the prosecution seeks to admit in trial against you. During these later hearings it is not unusual for the case to settle, even though it could not be settled at the pretrial conference.
Should your case not resolve during the pretrial conference or subsequent pretrial litigation, a trial will become necessary. The first important decision you must make with your attorney is whether or not the case should be tried to a jury or to the judge. While with felony cases, the vast majority of criminal trials are tried to a jury, in misdemeanor cases it is more common to try the case directly to judge. This is generally so because misdemeanor cases involve less evidence and less time. The decision to try a case to a jury or a judge is an extremely important one. You should assure yourself that your attorney has a general familiarity with the judge in question and knows how he is inclined to rule on legal issues.
Unlike felony cases, if the matter proceeds to a jury trial, eight rather than twelve citizens will be chosen to sit as jurors. The procedure after that is identical to a felony case in that there is jury selection, opening statements, the prosecutor’s case, the defense case, rebuttal, and closing arguments.
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