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Georgia’s Criminal & Juvenile Process

10 Stages of a Georgia Criminal or Juvenile Case

For many of our clients, this is the first time that they’re going through the criminal or juvenile justice system. They aren’t sure what this process is going to look like for them.  They often have no idea what to expect. This article is going to provide an overview of the process most Georgia criminal or juvenile cases go through.  We think of the Georgia criminal and juvenile process in these 10 stages:

  1. The Investigation
  2. The Initial Charges
  3. The Arrest
  4. The First Appearance (or 72 Hour) Hearing
  5. The Formal Charges
  6. The Arraignment
  7. The Formal Exchange of Evidence
  8. Calendar Call
  9. Pre-Trial Motions
  10. The Trial

This is a big picture overview.  Not every criminal or juvenile case will go through all of these stages.  This means that some of the stages may not apply in your case. In some cases these stages may take place in a different order.
At any point during this entire process, negotiations can take place and information can be presented to prosecutors.  These negotiations could lead to a case being dismissed, charges being reduced, or a some other resolution that is agreed to by everyone.

Stage 1: The Investigation

The investigation is the first stage in the process for every criminal or juvenile case. As soon as the investigative stage begins, that is when law enforcement, prosecutors, and their investigators start working on their case against you. The investigative phase may take 10 to 15 minutes on the side of the road in the case of a traffic stop, or it could be something that takes much longer for more complex criminal or juvenile cases.
If you are aware of an investigation involving you or a loved one, it is very important to get a defense attorney involved.  Proper representation during the investigative phase can impact:

  • whether charges are filed against you or your loved one
  • whether evidence or statements are obtained that can be used against you

If you or a loved one are being investigated, contact us immediately to learn how we can help protect your future.

Stage 2: The Initial Charges

The next stage is the initial charges. The initial charges can be as simple as law enforcement writing a ticket on the scene.  This usually happens in the case of traffic tickets or certain misdemeanor cases.
It can also be where law enforcement gets warrants for a person’s arrest and begins the charging process that way.

Stage 3: The Arrest

The next stage is the arrest. Not every case has an arrest. In some cases, the arrest actually comes before the warrants being taken in the initial charges. In many cases the charges and the arrest often happen at or around the same time.
If your loved one has been arrested and you aren’t sure how to get them out of jail, click here to read our article about how to bond someone out of jail.

Stage 4: The First Appearance (or 72 Hour) Hearing

For people who can not bond out of jail or youth detention after being arrested, the next stage is the first appearance hearing.  Some people also refer to this hearing as the 72 hour hearing because it has to take place within 72 hour of being detained.
The judge at that hearing will:

  • notify the person of their initial charges,
  • determine whether to sent bond, if that judge can set bond,
  • how much the bond should be, and
  • what types of conditions of bond to put in place.

This is another key point in the process that an attorney can provide huge value.  An attorney can properly request a bond in an amount that the person can post.  If the judge is considering ordering conditions of bond, a defense attorney can argue for conditions that will minimize the impacts on their client’s life.
If your loved one is in jail, contact us now  for a priority Defense Strategy Meeting, so that we can work to get them out as quickly as possible.

Stage 5: The Formal Charges

The next stage that takes place is the formal charges. The formal charges are different from the initial charges that took place in stage 2.  The initial charges in stage 2 are brought about by the law enforcement officer. The formal charges in step five are initiated by the prosecutor’s office.
A prosecutor’s office typically reviews a number of things before deciding the formal charges.  These include things like:

  • evidence,
  • incident reports,
  • charges brought by the officer,
  • witness statements, and
  • and other potential evidence or information.

The prosecutor can charge somebody with the same things that the officer charged them with or they can change the charges.  This means a prosecutor can add charges, take away charges, change some charges but not others.  Changes in the charges often confuses people because they do not understand why the charges have changed.
The formal charges that the prosecutor prepares are either on an indictment, an accusation, or a petition, which are the formal names of the formal charging documents in a criminal or juvenile case.
If you or your loved one is at the point that they are waiting for the formal charges or the arraignment, click here to download our free ebook, 5 Things Not to Do After You’ve Been Charged with a Crime.

Stage 6: The Arraignment

Once the formal charges are prepared, a defendant is arraigned on those charges. The arraignment is where you are formally told what all the charges are in court.  Also also make your first plea of guilty or not guilty at this hearing.
The date of the arraignment is very important because you only have 10 days from the date of your arraignment to file most motions in a criminal or juvenile case.  These include motions to challenge evidence, to challenge the charging document, or other types of motions.
It is very important to have a criminal or juvenile defense lawyer prior to the arraignment. Some people think they’ll just go to the arraignment and see what’s going to happens.  Those people often miss some of these important deadlines that are tied to the arraignment.
If you want more information on arraignments, click here for a more detailed article on what an arraignment is.

Stage 7: The Formal Exchange of Evidence

The formal exchange of evidence is usually the next stage in the process. In Georgia criminal law, this is referred to as “discovery.” When discovery motions are filed in court, there are certain obligations that the prosecutors has to provide us with information and we have certain obligations to provide them with information.
Outside of the formal exchange of evidence, a criminal and juvenile defense law firm can be doing an investigation throughout this entire process.  This can include things like getting other records, interviewing witnesses, and trying to find other evidence or information that can be beneficial.

Stage 8: Calendar Call

For many criminal cases, the next stage in the process is a calendar call.  In some cases pre-trial motions (stage 9) come before the calendar call.  The calendar call is a hearing where the judge takes announcements of whether a case is ready for trial or not.  The court will usually provide some direction at the end of the calendar call as to when someone needs to appear for trial, or if they are on call for trial.  Some criminal cases are on trial calendars every month until the case is resolved.

Stage 9: Pre-Trial Motions

The next stage is pre-trial motions.  These are motions that will take place to:

  • challenge evidence,
  • determine the admissibility of statements,
  • challenge law enforcement’s conduct,
  • challenge the legality of the charging documents,
  • compel the production of evidence, or
  • address any other issues that a judge needs to rule on before a trial.

When you hear about people saying evidence got thrown out in a case, that’s usually through pre-trial motions.

Stage 10: The Trial

The next stage that you’ll typically see in a criminal or juvenile case is the  trial. This is a formal hearing in front of a judge or a jury.  Whether you are entitled to a judge or jury trial depends on the type of case and the court that it is in.
The purpose of a trial is for a judge or a jury to determine whether or not the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence for the judge or jury to find the person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Outside the Stages

There are many other things that can take place during a criminal case, such as pleas of guilty, dismissals, sentencing, or appeals.  Having a quality criminal or juvenile defense team during this process can help you understand all of these stages and your options.
The earlier you involve a criminal defense lawyer in this process, the higher the likelihood of a positive outcome.  A quality defense team can:

  • protect your rights,
  • ensure you understand the entire process,
  • conduct an investigation in your case,
  • explain all of your options to you, and
  • recommend the best options for you and your future.

No matter what stage you are in, if you want the help of an award winning criminal defense team that is focused on protecting the futures of people in their teens through their mid-twenties, then contact us to schedule a no cost, no obligation Defense Strategy Meeting.

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Ghanouni Teen & Young Adult Defense Firm

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