How to Handle a Misdemeanor Charge

By braniac

Sometime during your life, you may be charged with a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor crimes are less serious than felonies (rape, murder, etc.), but should be taken very seriously.

The first thing you need to do is look up the misdemeanor laws for your state. But, generally, here's what will happen. If you are accused of committing a misdemeanor, a police officer will probably have give you your citation, which will contain information about what you are being charged with, the statute number, and your court date and place (arraignment).

Besides the fact that you SHOULD NOT be getting into this trouble... your citation is NOT JUST a ticket. Take it seriously. You have been charged with a crime and you could face serious consequences.

You can request a Pretrial Conference. The purpose of a pretrial conference is to bring everyone together to try and resolve the matter before you go to court. This is commonly known as plea bargaining. If an agreement is reached, you may be sentenced at the time of the pretrial conference or at a later date. Certain cases may require an evaluation before sentencing if it has to do with potentially hurting another person (like a battery charge or DWI). If you need an evaluation, your sentencing will be held after the pretrial conference. If no resolution is reached, the court will either set a date for another pretrial conference or schedule the matter for trial.

If the matter isn't resolved and you have a jury trial, the court will also set a second pretrial conference. The purpose of this second pretrial conference is to allow the parties another try at resolving the case or to talk about jury instructions and other items relating to the jury trial. Most misdemeanor court trials last from half an hour to a half day. The day the court is held depends on your state of residence.

If you go to court, you will be in a courtroom with other people who are there for their arraignments. A judge or clerk will call you up and read the charges against you. You must then plead "guilty," "not guilty" or "no contest."

If you plead "guilty" or "no contest," the judge will usually give you the appropriate fine (or sentence). If you get a jail sentence, the judge will not accept your guilty or no contest plea, but will enter a not guilty plea on your behalf.

If you get a fine, you will be directed to the area of the courthouse where you can pay the fine. If you can't make the payment, you will have to set up a payment plan. You normally do not have to return to court, but you will have a criminal conviction that will stay on your record forever.

If you plead not guilty, the judge will set another court date for you.

You can plead not guilty, even if you committed the crime. You can change your plea later if you want to, or be charged as guilty and lose the case. Pleading "not guilty" is a way to preserve your options -- your option to enter a plea bargain or go to trial and make the prosecutor prove the case against you.

A plea bargain can help you keep some of the "crimes" off of your record because you agreed to plea guilty on only one of the "crimes". If you simply plead guilty at your arraignment, you will not have this opportunity later and will have ALL "crimes" on your record.

Misdemeanors are divided into three categories: Class 1 (most serious), Class 2 and Class 3 (lease serious). The Class of your misdemeanor will determine the fine and/or jail time (depending on your state of residence).

If this is your first misdemeanor, you probably won't have to pay the maximum fine or have to spend any time in jail (with the exception of a DUI, which carries a mandatory jail sentence in some states.)

If you are found "not guilty" it means that if you are asked on any application whether you have ever been convicted of a crime, you can answer "no." Because you were charged with a crime, the fact that you had a charge against you will remain in your records, and there may be occasions when you will have to explain that.

If you are innocent, you can go to trial and hope that the justice system will work and you will not be found not guilty. If you aren't sure about your chances to be found "not guilty", you can enter into a plea bargain, or you can choose diversion. Don't decide until you contact an attorney because they know the laws better than you do.