The criminal justice process is complex, and often can be
confusing to persons not familiar with criminal law. This
arrest-to-sentence guide and legal glossary are designed to explain
and clarify the criminal justice process in Clayton County.
The information below describes
each step in the arrest to sentence process.
In the majority of cases, an arrest is the first stage in the
criminal justice process. In some cases, an investigation precedes
the arrest. In a typical arrest, a defendant is charged by the
police and taken into custody.
An early stage in the criminal justice process, occurring after
an arrest. The defendant is brought before a judge and informed of
the charges pending against him or her. If applicable, bail is
If a defendant does not make bail in the first several days
after her arrest they will often be set down for a preliminary
hearing. On this occasion a magistrate court judge will hear some
of the initial evidence against the defendant and any response that
may be offered by the defense attorney. A determination of whether
probable cause to hold the defendant on the arrest charges will
then be made by the judge. If the judge finds probable cause the
case will be "bound over" to Superior Court for further
prosecution. If the judge declines to find probable cause the case
is dismissed however, the ADA may in his or her discretion choose
to nonetheless pursue prosecution by present to the Grand Jury if
the facts and circumstances warrant.
As an alternative, the prosecutor may extend a "fast track"
guilty plea sentence recommendation where appropriate. If the
defendant accepts, the case will instead be set down on a plea
calendar presided over by a Superior Court Judge. "Fast Track"
sentence recommendations are one-time only offers made where
appropriate to aid the efficient administration of justice.
Under Georgia State law, Grand Juries are empowered to hear
evidence presented by prosecutors and to file charges, known as
indictments, in felony cases. the Grand Jury can also conduct
independent investigations. Each Grand Jury is comprised of 16 to
23--usually 23-- people.
The initial stage of proceedings in Superior Court, the court
that conducts felony criminal trials. Procedurally similar to a
First Appearance, the defendant is brought before a judge and
informed of the charges pending against him or her and for the
first time will enter their plea of "Guilty" or "Not Guilty."
Pre-Trial Motions and Hearings
After Arraignment and before trial, the law provides defendants
an opportunity to challenge the expected evidence to be used
against them. They are also allowed to make certain request of the
Court for accommodations particular to their unique situation.
These challenges and request are made through "Motions". Most
Motions require a hearing before the judge and the presentation of
testimony from witnesses before they can be ruled upon.
Pre-Trial Conferences and Trial Calendar
Each judge has his or her own particular system for handling
this stage of the process but generally, this is an opportunity for
the State and defense to meet and engage in any plea negotiations
and resolve any issues not already addressed through pre-trial
A criminal trial is a formal examination of evidence before a
court of law or a jury to determine whether a defendant is guilty
of the charges brought against him beyond a reasonable doubt.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
Assistant District Attorney
Assistant District Attorneys are lawyers hired by the District
Attorney to prosecute cases as representatives of the People of the
State of Georgia.
A formal written statement of charges facing a defendant that
form the issue for a judge or jury at trial. The accusation is
similar to an indictment except that under Georgia Law for certain
crimes the prosecutor may in his or her discretion bypass
presentment to the Grand Jury.
A disposition of a case in which the defendant is fount not
Abbreviation for Assistant District Attorney. See also Assistant
Cash or bond posted by a defendant as collateral to ensure that
he or she returns to court on a future date.
A warrant issued by a judge when an individual fails to appear
in court at a specified date and time.
A disposition of a case in which the defendant is found guilty
by trial or plea.
Decline to Prosecute
In some cases, the prosecutor may decide not to proceed against
a defendant, in which case the prosecutor declines to prosecute the
case. A prosecutor may decline to prosecute for a number of
reasons, for example, if there is insufficient evidence or if
further investigation is needed.
The person alleged to have committed the crime.
Defense Attorney The lawyer who represents the
defendant in a criminal case. The defense of those who cannot
afford to pay of a lawyer is provided by organizations such as the
Public Defender's Office, private organizations such as the Georgia
Justice Project, or by private attorneys assigned by the court.
Once a case has concluded, it is said to be disposed. Possible
dispositions include: conviction by trial or plea, dismissal, and
The District Attorney is a lawyer, elected by the residents of
this jurisdiction, to represent the State of Georgia in criminal
proceedings against those accused of crimes.
An offense which is the most serious crime category. All
felonies are punishable by a minimum of one year terms and may, in
certain cases, go all the way up to Life sentences. Some
felonies--designated by statute--carry certain mandatory minimum
amounts of punishment.
Evidence based upon the reports of others, rather than on the
first-hand experience of a witness.
A jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict is called a hung
jury. When there is a hung jury, the case may be retried.
A written statement charging a party with the commission of a
crime or other offense, drawn up by a prosecuting attorney, and
voted and filed by a Grand Jury. Misdemeanor: Misdemeanors are
offenses for which a term of 24 hours to one year may be imposed.
Examples of misdemeanors are disorderly conduct , trespassing and
DUI's. The Office of the Solicitor General handles cases which have
charges that exclusively misdemeanors--that is there are no felony
Provides translation for non-English speaking witnesses and
Presides over trials and hearing, decides motions, and conducts
The territorial range over which the authority to interpret and
apply the law extends. Each of the counties in Georgia has a
District Attorney who is an elected official. Each DA has
jurisdiction to prosecute crimes and offenses that are committed in
the county of election only. Clayton County contains the following
Cities and towns: College Park (part); Forest Park; Jonesboro; Lake
City; Lovejoy; Morrow and Riverdale. The following Unincorporated
areas also fall within Clayton County: Rex (unincorporated); Conley
(unincorporated); Ellenwood (unincorporated); Irondale
(unincorporated); Bonanza (unincorporated); Lake Spivey; Clayton
Panhandle; Old Dixie; Mountain View; Flintwoods; Flint River
District; Lake Harbin; Old South; Botany Woods; Valley Hill;
Arrowhead District and North Jonesboro.
Dispositions in which the prosecutor and defendant agree on a
guilty charge. Often, pleas will have a sentencing recommendation.
A judge must approve the plea.
In Georgia, the court in which felonies are tried.
Voir Dire is the name given to jury selection. In Superior
Court, 12 jurors are chosen with possibly 1 to 3 alternates. When
prospective jurors are brought to the courtroom, the judge will
explain certain principles of law and question the prospective
jurors. The ADA then questions the jurors. After the ADA has
finished, the defense attorney may ask further questions. Typically
out of hearing of the jury, and following established rules, the
attorneys will excuse jurors they believe should not sit on the
case. The remaining jurors are sworn in. The process continues
until the full number of jurors and alternates are chosen.
A judicial writ authorizing an officer to execute a search,
seizure, or arrest.