The Kinds of Hearings You Will Have
In one case, you will have several different kinds of "hearings." It is possible for more than one of these hearings to be held on the same day. (For example: "Change of Plea" and "Sentencing" can be done at the same time.) The most common kinds of hearings, and the order they occur in, are:
- First Appearance. (If you have been placed in jail) A First Appearance is so a judge can tell you why you are in jail, and set bond, and advise you of certain rights. A first appearance is not the same as an arraignment. It is a very short hearing. There are no witnesses, and no jury.
- Arraignment is the first hearing after formal charges are filed. It is to enter a guilty or not guilty plea, to re-consider bond, and to schedule further court dates. You must attend. It is a very short hearing. There are no witnesses and no jury.
- Readiness hearing, usually on a Friday about 10 days before your trial date. This hearing is to determine whether the case is ready for trial, or will be resolved some other way, or should be delayed ("continued") for any reason. These hearings are usually short, but several different cases are scheduled at exactly the same time, usually in a crowded courtroom. It can take a long time for the judge to get to your case. It is not unusual to have more than one Readiness hearing before your case is over.
- Trial. This is the hearing that determines whether you are guilty of the crime or not. Some trials involve a jury, and some do not. This is the hearing where witnesses testify. Some trials last less than one day, and some last for weeks. Sometimes you and your attorney will plea bargain your case. In that situation, the trial will turn into a "Change of Plea" that often involves you pleading guilty to a different or lower charge.
- Sentencing. This kind of hearing is only held if at the trial showed that you were guilty of the crime, or if you entered a guilty plea. Sentencing determines punishment. Sentencing is handled by the judge. It does not involve a jury. Victims often attend the sentencing, and tell the judge what they think the sentence should be. You can also bring witnesses to speak on your behalf.
Please assume that clients are required to appear in person for each of these court dates. Your attorney cannot control the court date, and dates can be changed very suddenly. Make sure your attorney has a current address and phone number to reach you. If you do not appear for court, it is possible that the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest. Some judges even arrest people who show up late for court!