Popular media may lead people to believe that when the government accuses someone of a crime, that person stands trial relatively soon after his arrest. However, the criminal justice process is much more complicated than television makes it seem. Accused people and defendants may attend several hearings before the case goes to trial. One important pre-trial court appearance is the omnibus hearing.
Before the Omnibus Date: Arraignment
After law enforcement officers arrest a person, a judge must see the accused for an arraignment hearing. During this hearing, the court reads the accused the charges and rights. Then, the accused person must either enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The accused's lawyer will advise the accused on which plea to enter.
If a person pleads guilty, the judge can sentence the person during the arraignment or initial appearance. In most cases, the accused initially pleads not guilty, even if she changes the plea later. If this happens, the case becomes contested, and the accused becomes known as the defendant.
If and when a case becomes contested, the judge sets bond amounts and conditions for bail. The judge will also set the schedule for upcoming appearances, including the omnibus date.
Read More: What Is an Arraignment Hearing?
Omnibus Hearing Meaning
The next step in the process is a pre-trial appearance called an omnibus or OMNI hearing. The omnibus hearing meaning is to make some procedural decisions before a trial.
Each state and local jurisdiction sets its own rules for omnibus hearings, meaning each defendant's hearing may proceed differently than another. Depending on the jurisdiction and facts of the case, a few important things may happen during the omnibus:
- The defendant takes a guilty plea.
- The prosecution tells the judge whether or not it has shared all evidence with the defense.
- The defense attorney informs the judge if she plans to file any pre-trial motions.
- The judge determines if there are constitutional or procedural issues with the case.
Not all of these things will happen in every omnibus hearing. For example, many defendants continue their pleas of not guilty. It's important for defendants to ask the defense attorney any questions during this hearing. Finally, the judge will set dates for any other pre-trial hearings as well as the final trial.
Defendant Conduct During Omnibus Hearings
In most cases, courts require defendants to attend these hearings. Defendants will usually meet with their lawyers between the arraignment and omnibus hearings to go over the plan of action. Although the omnibus date is not an official court date, defendants should treat it with the same respect as a trial. Defendants should dress professionally if not in jail uniforms.
In most cases, the court will not ask the defendant to speak during omnibus hearings. Defense attorneys will advise their clients if they need to say anything during their omnibus hearings. Though hearings can be emotional, it's important for defendants to avoid disrupting the court.
What Happens After the Omnibus Hearing?
Omnibus hearings are generally short. After the hearing, the defendant either returns to detention or is free to leave, depending on his standing with bail. The defendant may have several more meetings with lawyers in the coming weeks.
All cases and jurisdictions are different. However, many cases go through more pre-trial hearings, some of which the defendant does not need to attend. Defendants may take plea deals from prosecutors before the trial begins. These deals usually involve reduced sentences in exchange for the defendant's guilty plea.
If the two sides do not reach an agreement, the case will go to trial, and both sides will present evidence. If the court finds the defendant guilty, the case will move into pre-sentencing and sentencing trials.