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What Happens When You've Been Charged With a Misdemeanor

1. The following information is not a manual or a comprehensive instruction guide. It is intended to be a short and simple informational statement about basic requirements and procedures.

2. You are not required to have a lawyer. You may represent yourself if you wish. Whether you retain an attorney or not is a decision only you can make. Neither the judge nor the clerk’s office can or will give you advice. The court staff is available to provide you with information, not legal advice. They may be able to help you understand the court process or how to do what you need, but they have been instructed not to answer questions if you are seeking advice on what to do, whether it is of a legal nature or not. To serve you more effectively, they may suggest you seek the advice of an attorney or refer you to other resources.

3. A misdemeanor citation is a serious matter that is decided in a formal setting. You should dress appropriately. You should also be on time. Food or drink is not permitted in the courtroom. Children should not be brought into a courtroom unless they are old enough to sit quietly and not disrupt the proceedings. Cell phones and pagers are not allowed in courtrooms.

4. Please be patient. There may be a delay before your case is called, and there are a variety of reasons why delays happen. It is often necessary to schedule several hearings for the same time, to make the most efficient use of court time (and taxpayer money). Sometimes, a hearing scheduled earlier in the day takes longer than expected. Sometimes the court must deal with urgent matters which take precedence over other scheduled hearings.


You will be advised of your rights in the courtroom. If you do not understand these rights, it is important that you tell the judge so they can be explained in more detail to you.

1. One of your rights is to consult with a lawyer. The court may give you time to hire and talk with your attorney if you request one. If you can’t afford an attorney, you can ask the judge to appoint one for you. You will have to fill out a financial form to make sure you qualify. You will have a lien filed against you and be required to reimburse the county for all or part of the costs of a court-appointed attorney.

2. You have the right to a speedy, impartial trial before a judge, and maybe before a jury.

3. You are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

4. You have a right to use the “compulsory process” of the Court. This means that you have the right to call witnesses on your behalf, and to have the court issue subpoenas to require them to appear. You also have the right to confront and cross-examine any witnesses against you.

5. You have the right against self incrimination. This means you may remain silent. You do not have to answer questions asked of you, and you do not have to testify against yourself.


At your initial appearance in court, the judge will tell you what you have been charged with and what the possible penalties are. The charges are listed on the citation or complaint and summons you will have received.

The penalty will be based on what you are charged with. A Class 1 misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to one year in the county jail and/or a $2000 fine. A Class 2 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 30 days in the county jail and/or a $500 fine.

All fines are due and payable on the day you are sentenced. You should be prepared to pay the full amount, plus any costs that are ordered.

Misdemeanor sentences can also include suspension of your driver’s license, community service, probation, restitution to a victim, or other conditions as set by the judge.


The case starts when a citation or summons is issued to you. The charges are listed, as well as your court date, called an initial appearance.

At your initial appearance, you will be again notified of the charges and the possible penalties. You will also be advised of your rights. If you are charged with a Class 1, a preliminary hearing will be scheduled or your case will be submitted to a grand jury. You may waive your right to a preliminary hearing or a grand jury proceeding. A preliminary hearing or a grand jury proceeding are separate evidentiary proceedings where a determination is made whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with criminal charges against you. A preliminary hearing is a hearing in front of a judge. A grand jury is a body of citizens consisting of not less than six nor more than ten jurors impaneled and sworn to inquire into all public offenses committed or triable in the county. If the judge or the grand jury determines there is sufficient evidence of a crime an arraignment court date will be set and you will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. If you plead not guilty to a Class 1 or a Class 2, a trial date will be set. You will be entitled to a trial by jury unless you waive that right. If you are charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor and the judge tells you in advance that you will not receive jail time, you are not entitled to a jury trial or court appointed counsel.

At trial, which can typically last from an hour to a full day if there is a jury, evidence will be presented and witnesses may testify so a decision can be made about whether you are guilty of the charges. Either the judge or the jury will make that decision, however, the judge decides your sentence if you are found guilty.

If you are found guilty, sentencing may be done right away (on a Class 2) or a separate hearing may be scheduled (on a Class 1). The judge may order a pre-sentence investigation report (PSI) on a Class 1 conviction.

If you disagree with the outcome of your trial, you may file an appeal. Separate rules and time limits apply.

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