The following are basic definitions of hearings and proceedings which may occur during the course of criminal prosecution. The court may combine issues needing to be addressed at any hearing. Please contact the prosecutor’s office with any questions.

Initial Appearance: A proceeding held within 24 hours of arrest. The judge decides whether the defendant may be release on bond, his own recognizance, or otherwise, and sets bond if applicable. The judge may order the defendant not to have contact with the victim, or set other conditions regarding the defendant’s release. The judge may also appoint a lawyer to represent the defendant if he/she cannot afford to hire one.

Arraignment Hearing: (Misdemeanors) The defendant is informed of the formal charges and is required to enter a ‘plea’ of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a pre trial conference or trial will be scheduled within sixty days of the arraignment.

Preliminary Hearing: (Felonies) A hearing scheduled within 20 days of the initial appearance to determine whether there is Probable Cause to formally charge the defendant. The Victim and other witnesses may be required to appear and testify.

Change of Plea: The court will be presented with a ‘plea agreement’ by the prosecutor and defense counsel. The agreement may stipulate the defendant pleads guilty to original charges or to such other charges as agreed upon. The actual terms and conditions of a plea agreement may be very complex, and may include a stipulated sentence and/or restitution.

Dismissal Hearing: Usually involves a determination by the court as to whether the charges alleged in the Complaint or Information should be dropped for good cause. If dismissed without prejudice, charges may be re-filed.

Continuance Hearing: Delays are common at all stages of the justice process. Continuances are legal postponements of scheduled hearings and may occur without warning. You should check with the prosecutor’s office to see if any hearings you plan to attend have been continued.

Competency / Rule 11: A mental competency hearing usually involves determining whether the defendant is mental competent to stand trial.

Motion to Suppress: Usually held to determine whether evidence in a criminal case was illegally obtained. If evidence was secured in violation of 4th, 5th, or 6th Amendment Rights, the judge will suppress (prevent) such evidence from being presented in the case.

Pre-Trial Conference: A discussion between attorneys and court. Issues relating to facts, evidence and other matters or motions pertinent to the case are discussed.

Trial: Held before a judge (and usually a jury) at which evidence is presented by both the State and defense. The victim(s) and witness(es) are subpoenaed to testify and the judge and/or jury determine if the evidence proved defendant was guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’

Aggravation/Mitigation: The court decides if the sentence should be aggravated (increased) or mitigated (lessened). This hearing is often combined with the sentencing.


Sentencing: Scheduled within 45 days after defendant pleads guilty or found guilty by trial. The victim has a right to be heard at this time. The judge hears testimony regarding restitution reviews the pre-sentence report and renders sentence.


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