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Court Hearings and Courtroom Procedures

Courts are organized around different types of hearings depending on the stage of the case. Here are the common types of hearings:


This is normally your first court appearance after being arrested or cited for a criminal case. At this hearing, you usually appear before a judge, are formally notified what you are being charged with, and then enter a plea of Not Guilty. Pleas can always be changed, but you always plead Not Guilty at this initial hearing.

At an arraignment hearing, the judge will impose “conditions of release,” which are specific requirements you must abide by while the case is pending. This can include bail, no consuming alcohol, etc. Your attorney can object to some of these conditions. An experienced attorney can make sure you are in compliance with any court conditions until your case has been resolved. At your arraignment, you will receive your next court date, which is normally called a pre-trial hearing.

Pre-Trial Hearings

A pre-trial hearing is normally the next hearing after the arraignment. What occurs at this hearing depends on the progress of the case. For example, your case could be resolved at this hearing or additional time can be requested, also called a “continuance.” This is a common request at a pre-trial hearing to give the parties sufficient time to fully investigate and negotiate your case. Also, any issues that might arise while your case is pending can be discussed with the judge. Most negotiation with the prosecutor is conducted out of court between your attorney and the prosecutor.

If your case is not resolved and you are discussing setting the matter for trial with your attorney, your case will then be set for a motions hearing.

Motion Hearings

If your case proceeds forward and it doesn’t appear a resolution can be reached or you do not wish to resolve it, a motion hearing is set to challenge some of the evidence in the case. Evidentiary issues are found by your attorney and a legal basis to challenge this evidence is developed and presented in a brief to the court. This hearing resembles a trial but is in front of a judge and witnesses such as the officer are present to testify.

Some examples of these challenges I may bring are:

  • Dismiss for delay in filing charges.
  • Dismiss for failure of government to preserve evidence.
  • Dismiss for violation of your speedy trial rights.
  • Dismiss for insufficient evidence.
  • Dismiss for lack of probable cause to stop or seize.
  • Invalid search of person or property.
  • Informant tip insufficient to support stop.
  • No reasonable suspicion a crime has occurred.
  • Motion to dismiss for unlawful detention.
  • Motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause to arrest.
  • No access to counsel.
  • Invoke right to remain silent.
  • Suppress evidence of refusal to perform field sobriety tests or breath tests.

Readiness Hearings

A readiness hearing is normally set when your case is to be set for trial. This might occur after much investigation, negotiation and court hearings, but sometimes cases need to be tried or you simply want your day in court. This decision is only made after much consultation together and exploring all other options available. At this hearing both parties simply notify the court they are “ready” for trial. Your case may be continued at this hearing if everyone is not yet ready to proceed to trial as scheduled. For example, witnesses are unavailable, additional evidence discovered or even lack of courtroom availability. And in some cases, your case could be resolved at this hearing with a negotiated disposition.


Most cases are resolved without the need for trial. But sometimes a case needs to be heard by a full jury at trial. For misdemeanor trials, the jury consists of a total of six. In a felony trial, the numbers of jurors is twelve.

At trial, the prosecutor must prove every element of the crime(s) charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence to the jury that consists of live testimony, documents or other types of evidence. After the evidence has been presented, the jury will then decide whether the prosecutor has successfully proved each element beyond a reasonable doubt or failed to meet this burden. If the jury cannot agree on this decision, a hung jury results and a mistrial is declared. A jury must make a unanimous decision for a verdict to result in a criminal case.


If you are convicted or plead guilty to a crime, all sentencing decisions are made by judges. At sentencing, the prosecutor will make a sentencing recommendation to the judge. Unless there is a negotiated resolution on the case that requires an “agreed” sentence recommendation between both parties, your attorney can also make a sentencing recommendation to the judge. However, these are just recommendations and a judge will always have the final authority to impose whatever sentence he or she believes is appropriate in your specific case.

You have a right to speak on your own behalf at sentencing as can your friends or family. Additionally, people can provide letters to the judge on your behalf.

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