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Misdemeanor Process Posted February 8, 2018

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A misdemeanor criminal charge can be costly, time-consuming and embarrassing, but will rarely result in jail time.  After being arrested for a misdemeanor criminal charge most people feel shame, embarrassment and fear over what is coming next.  The vast majority of misdemeanor criminal charges are the first and only time that a person will be involved in the legal system, which can be quite daunting to anyone. This article will walk you through what to expect if you or a loved one has been charged with a misdemeanor criminal offense in Oklahoma. (This article is specifically tailored to Tulsa county but most counties in Oklahoma will operate in a similar fashion.)


What is a Misdemeanor?


A criminal misdemeanor is defined as a crime that is less serious than a felony and that is punishable by a year or less in county jail.  Examples of misdemeanors are first offense DUI, shoplifting, simple possession of a controlled drug (e.g. marijuana, cocaine, meth etc.), as well as many other crimes.  


Arrest or Warrant


A misdemeanor criminal charge always begins with an arrest.  A person is either arrested at the time of the incident or a warrant is issued after the fact if the suspect is not apprehended at the scene.  Either way the person suspected of the crime will be booked into Tulsa county jail and a bond will be set.  Bond is money that a person, or a bondsman, put up to secure the persons release pending the conclusion of the case.  Bond can be handled in one of two ways; 1) if the person has the means they can post a cash bond for the full amount and that money will be refunded at the conclusion of the case. 2) A person can retain a bondsman who will post the bond for them in return for 10% of the total bond, but the 10% that the person pays the bondsman will not be returned.  I know this can be confusing so lets break it down with an example.


If Sam gets arrested and his bond is set at $1,000, then Sam has two options for posting bond.  If Sam can afford it he can give the court $1,000 to hold until the conclusion of his case.  At the conclusion of his case the entire $1,000 will be refunded to Sam.  If Sam cannot afford to post the whole $1,000 then he can hire a bondsman who will charge him $100 (10% of $1000) to post the $1,000 bond.  Sam will not be refunded the $100 he paid to the bondsman for posting his bond, this is how the bondsman earns a living.


Initial Appearance


After a person has been arrested for a misdemeanor criminal charge a court date will be set.  This first court date is called an initial appearance.  An Initial Appearance is a simple court date where the court will inform the defendant of the charges against them and insure that that the defendant has a criminal defense attorney.  If the defendant has already retained a criminal defense attorney the court will set the next hearing date which is referred to as the jury trial sounding docket.


In a misdemeanor criminal case a defendant can have an attorney appear for him/her at the initial arraignment if they have a retained the attorney prior to the court date.  Oklahoma law specifically provides that a licensed Oklahoma attorney may stand in for their client at the initial arraignment.  Many people ask; “well won’t it look bad if I don’t show up?”. The answer is no.  In fact you will never see the judge that handles initial appearances again in your court case.  Once an Initial Appearance is held your case is transferred to a different Judge that handles the jury trial sounding docket.  Although you have the absolute right to be present at the Initial Appearance having an attorney appear for you can save you from having to take off work to come to court.  You will need to be present at the next court date which is the Jury Trial Sounding Docket. 


Jury Trial Sounding Docket


The jury trial sounding docket is the first setting that an assistant district attorney will be in the room with your case file in hand.  This court date is when you will receive the first offer (plea bargain) from the State; it is also the first chance for your attorney to negotiate with the State.  If your attorney and the State can reach an agreement that you are willing to accept then the case may be plead that day.  If an agreement cannot be reached then the case can either be set for trial or it may be passed for further negotiation.  The other option is that your attorney sees an issue with the case, such as a bad stop or search, and believes a motion hearing is necessary.


If a motion hearing is necessary your attorney will file the proper motion and the court will set a date for hearing.  In most cases if you are successful at a motion hearing the case against you will be dismissed.  If your motion hearing is not successful then you will be left with two options; plea or trial.


Criminal Motion Hearing


A criminal motion hearing occurs when your attorney files a motion alleging that the State (generally a police officer) has done something improper (e.g. illegal search, illegal stop etc.) in the case and as a result of this improper action certain evidence against you should be suppressed. Once a motion is filed the judge will set a date to hear the motion.  During this hearing evidence will be presented (usually in the form of live testimony from the officer) and the judge will make a determination of whether the officer’s action were proper.  If the judge deems that the officer’s action were indeed improper then the judge will sustain (grant) the motion and suppress the evidence.  When this occurs the State is usually left with no evidence and will have to dismiss the criminal case against you.  If the Judge denies your motion then the case will be reset on a sounding (status) docket to determine where the case will go next; either plea or jury trial.

Plea Bargain


A plea bargain is a negotiated agreement between the State (prosecutor) and the criminal defendant  where the defendant pleas guilty to a charge in return for some concession from the state, usually a lesser punishment than the defendant would face if they were convicted at jury trial.  The fact is over 90% of criminal cases are disposed of with a plea bargain, but if a person is innocent or a plea bargain cannot be reached then the case will be disposed of through jury trial.


Jury Trial


The Jury trial is the end of the road in the criminal felony process.  A felony jury trial can be broke down into six part: Voir Dire, Opening Statements, State’s Case in Chief, Defendant’s Case in Chief, Closing Arguments and the Verdict. For an in-depth look at a jury trial please see our article; Jury Trial:What to Expect


A misdemeanor criminal charge is not as serious as a felony but can still have far reaching implications in your life.  Even a misdemeanor conviction can lead to loss of job, loss of license and possible jail time.  With so much at stake make sure to hire the best criminal defense attorneys around.  Call Stephen Lee and Mark Cagle, The Tulsa Criminal Attorneys, because when you're in a fight for your reputation and livelihood you want the best.

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