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 set.
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 Calls
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 motions.
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 found not guilty.
Abbreviation for Assistant District Attorney. See also Assistant District Attorney.
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 off 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 acquittal.
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 charges.
Provides translation for non-English speaking witnesses and defendants.
Presides over trials and hearing, decides motions, and conducts arraignments.
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.