There are two main classifications of crimes in the State of Georgia: felonies and misdemeanors. A felony is any crime that is punishable by one year or more in the state prison system. A misdemeanor is any crime that is punishable by twelve months or less in jail. Most traffic offenses, including simple speeding tickets, are classified as misdemeanors in Georgia. No matter what type of charge you may be facing, the Atlanta criminal attorneys at Margolis Legal Group, P.C. can help.
Navigating the criminal justice system can be confusing and frustrating, but knowing how a case progresses through the courts can help relieve some of that stress. The following is a summary of the various stages of a criminal case in Atlanta and throughout the State of Georgia. This is a general outline only, and all of these stages may not apply in every single case, depending on your particular set of facts and circumstances.
1. Pre-Arrest / Investigation phase:
This is a criminal lawyer’s first opportunity to make a significant impact on your case. Too many clients wait to hire a criminal lawyer until after charges are made. At the first sign that you are being investigated by law enforcement, call Atlanta Attorney Andrew Margolis. We can intervene with the police, begin our own investigation, and in many cases, provide additional information to law enforcement that may prevent you from being arrested at all.
2. Arrest / First Appearance / Initial Bond Hearing
Once an arrest is made, the law requires that you be brought before a magistrate judge for a “first appearance hearing” within 72 hours. At that hearing, the magistrate judge will inform you of the charges pending against you. The judge will also decide whether to set a bond in your case, which would allow you to be released from jail while your charges are pending. Keep in mind that there are certain charges for which a magistrate judge cannot legally set a bond. In those cases, you will have to wait until you can be brought before a Superior Court judge with the authority to set bond.
3. Preliminary Hearing
If bond is denied by the magistrate judge, or if the bond is set so high that you cannot post it, the case progresses to the preliminary hearing stage. At the preliminary hearing, the State must prove to a magistrate judge that probable cause existed for your arrest. Atlanta Criminal Attorney Andrew Margolis will appear with you at this hearing and thoroughly cross examine the State’s witness or witnesses, usually the arresting officer or lead detective. This is not a trial, but only a preliminary hearing for a judge to decide whether there is just enough evidence to allow the case to continue forward in the trial court. Some cases are dismissed at this stage, while others continue forward, and are “bound over” to State or Superior Court. Finally, by posting a bond and getting out of jail, you automatically ‘waive’ or give up your right to this preliminary hearing and your case will automatically be bound over to the trial court. The preliminary hearing is a great opportunity for a good criminal lawyer to act aggressively to obtain important information about your case from the police and the prosecutor, and to begin demonstrating to the Court any weaknesses in the State’s case.
4. Bond Hearing in Superior Court
If bond is denied by the magistrate judge and your case is bound over to the trial court level, Atlanta Criminal Lawyer Andrew Margolis will petition a Superior Court judge for a bond in your case. He will do this by doing everything possible to demonstrate to the Judge that you are not at risk to commit crimes while free on bond, and that you are not a flight risk. There are other factors that judges consider, but those are the most important ones.
5. Pre-Indictment / Pre-Accusation Investigation Phase
At this point, your case has been ‘bound over’ from the Magistrate Court, and has been assigned to a trial judge and a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office or Solicitor-General’s Office. The prosecutors will undertake whatever investigation of the case they feel is appropriate at this point before formal charges are brought. This phase is a critical time during the case during which Atlanta Criminal Lawyer Andrew Margolis can establish a relationship with the prosecutor, conduct his own investigation into your case, and provide the prosecutors with information that may influence them to reduce charges or not file charges at all. Too many criminal lawyers simply sit back after the arrest and wait for the case to be indicted, missing critical opportunities to impact your case. Attorney Andrew B. Margolis will not simply sit back and wait, but will begin to make an impact on your case at the earliest possible stage.
6. Indictment / Accusation
At this stage, the District Attorney has presented your case to a Grand Jury, which will return what is known as an “indictment.” The charges listed in the indictment are the charges for which you will stand trial. Frequently these may be different or more serious charges than what the police officer charged you with when you were first arrested.
The arraignment is your first court appearance after your case is indicted by a grand jury. At arraignment, Attorney Andrew Margolis will stand with you before the judge as your charges are read, enter an initial plea on your behalf, and file any motions that may be appropriate. It is absolutely critical that you be represented by a criminal attorney at this stage, as you only have until ten days after your arraignment date to file any motions that may be appropriate to your case. If appropriate motions are not filed on time, you may lose certain important rights.
A motion is a request made to the judge for an order either requiring somebody to do something they are supposed to do, or to prohibit somebody from doing something they’re not supposed to do. Motions are essential to the successful defense of a criminal case. The types of motions filed in any given case will vary with the particular facts of the case. As part of his investigation and analysis of your case, Atlanta Criminal Lawyer Andrew Margolis will make a determination as to what motions should be filed and argued in your case. The most common types of motions filed in a criminal case include (but are not limited to):
Motion for Discovery: This motion invokes your rights under the Georgia discovery statute and in a felony case, forces the State to turn over any evidence to you that it intends to use against you at trial. It also forces the State to turn over any evidence it has that tends to show your innocence.
Motion to Suppress: This motion asks the judge to keep physical evidence such as drugs, guns, or any other physical object out of the trial. Andrew Margolis has used motions to suppress to attack evidence gathered during traffic stops, pat-downs, execution of search warrants, vehicle searches, and other encounters with law enforcement.
Motion to Exclude Statements: Commonly referred to in Georgia as a “Jackson-Denno Motion,” this motion asks the judge to keep out of the trial any incriminating statements you may have made during your encounters with police. Andrew Margolis has used this type of motion to exclude statements in situations where the police failed to inform the Defendant of his or her rights before questioning, ignored the Defendant’s request for an attorney, made promises or threats to obtain a statement, or otherwise overstepped their bounds during questioning.
9. Plea Negotiations
“Plea Negotiations” is a very broad, generic term for the many ongoing conversations your attorney will have with the prosecutors about your case. A good criminal attorney will NOT wait until just before trial to approach prosecutors about “working something out,” but will speak to the prosecutors early and often. Criminal Attorney Andrew B. Margolis’s aggressive style, expert knowledge of the law, and thorough preparation often result in offers by prosecutors for reduced sentences with little or no jail time, pleas to reduced charges, dismissal of some (or all) charges, or some combination of all of these.
After all motions have been heard, and if all discussions of resolving your case with some kind of deal have fallen through, your case proceeds to trial. At trial, the State must prove to a jury of twelve people (or six, if you are charged with misdemeanors only) that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. At trial, Andrew Margolis will do everything possible to convince the jury that reasonable doubt exists in your case and that they should find you not guilty. Andrew Margolis will do this through a thorough and exhausting process of trial preparation. By the time your case goes to a jury, Criminal Attorney Andrew Margolis will be prepared to aggressively cross-examine the State’s witnesses and challenge the State’s evidence, make objections when the prosecutor does something improper or unfair, and present your side of the story to the jury through your own witnesses and evidence. After all the evidence is in and all arguments have been made, the jury will make its decision. Attorney Andrew B. Margolis will be there with you every step of the way.
If you have been convicted by a jury, all is not lost. It may be possible to use the appeals process to overturn your conviction. A successful appeal starts with a thorough review of the trial transcript. In many cases, Atlanta Criminal Attorney Andrew Margolis will be able to identify legal errors made by the Judge during the trial that made the trial fundamentally unfair. These errors may have occurred either during the trial itself, or during a motions hearing prior to trial, or at some other point. In an appeal, Mr. Margolis will also argue that even if your trial was fair, the evidence was such that no reasonable jury could have found you guilty. If you have already been convicted of a crime, don’t assume that all is lost. Talk to us about the possibility of an appeal.