It would be impossible for this website to fully inform you of every step in the cirminal justice process in Georgia. What you basically need to understand at this point is that it is a process with many steps and some things have to happen before certain steps while other things have to happen after certain steps. It is that it is a road we have walked a thousand times before and can guide you along the way.
Most criminal cases start with an arrest. A law enforcement officer may arrest you if the officer has probable cause to believe that a person has committed a specific crime. People who remain in custody for 48 hour after arrest, will be brought in front of a judge to determine if you will be released on bail or on your own recognizance (ROR) with the promise that you will appear in court. Releases on recognizance are rare, though. Don't expect one. Rather, plan to post bail. Visit the bail bonding section of our website for more information. As a general rule, it is a very good idea for you to arrange to have an attorney present at the bail hearing if possible so that we can argue for a lower bail or that you be released on his own recognizance. I have frequently seen much better bail results when the arrested person had an attorney present at the First Appearance hearing.
After this first step you will proceed to arraignment (which may be as little as 90 days and as much as four years later) where the Judge explains the charges to you and explains the right to have an attorney for representation, and, most importantly, his right to have a jury trial in any criminal case in which jail time could be imposed. If it has not already been done, a bail amount and/or other conditions of release may be set at the Arraignment or later on.
After arraignment is when things really start moving a little more quickly. After the Arraignment, we will serve a formal request for discovery and the District Attorney or Solicitor-General's Office must give us all the documentation that they have in their possession that relates to your case. This documentation generally includes the police reports, transcripts of any tapes of statements that you made or other witnesses made during the initial investigation and any videos or recordings that were obtained at the time of arrest. Occasionally, there is a small out of pocket copying and processing cost associated with obtaining these reports which must be paid before the police reports, copies of statements and other discovery material will be provided.
After discovery, we may file additional motions based on what was contained within the discovery. These might include motions to suppress tangible evidence and motions to suppress your statement. Other motions might include attempts to sever co-defendants from each other (so each gets their own trial) and motions to demand that the state produce certain witnesses at trial rather than relying on their previous statements or reports.
We will make attempts to minimize the amount of risk and uncertainty that you have to bear at trial by negotiating with the state for an agreed outcome of some sort. This "plea bargaining" process usually involves both sides compromising toward an outcome that, while not ideal for either side, is an acceptable alternative to trial.
If no resolution has been reached during the settlement phase, the case will then be set for a bench or jury trial. In all cases, you enter trial presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. It is the burden of the prosecutor to present evidence to the jury that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof rests with the state to prove each essential element of the offense charged in an indictment beyond a reasonable doubt. Obviously, it is our goal to cast as much doubt on the state's case as we can.
This is a very short, brief overview of the process. It is much more complicated than this, which is why you should not try to walk this road alone. Give us a call. We can help.