A felony is a crime that may be punishable by confinement for more than a year in a state prison. The steps through a felony case are as follows:
INITIAL APPEARANCE: A defendant’s first appearance in court. At this court appearance, the defendant is informed of the charges and penalties, bail is set and a date for the preliminary hearing is set.
PRELIMINARY HEARING: A judge hears testimony to decide if the court has probably cause to believe a crime was committed and if the defendant committed it. If the judge feels there is enough evidence to make the defendant stand trial, the case continues and is “bound over” for trial.
ARRAIGNMENT: The defendant pleads guilty, not guilty or no contest. If there is a plea of guilty or no contest, a date is set for the sentencing hearing.
MOTIONS: A verbal or written request that asks the judge to decide a legal question made by the prosecutor or the defense attorney before, during or after the trial.
IN PERSON STATUS CONFERENCE: A court hearing set so that the parties can discuss if an agreement can be reached before the trial date. If an agreement has been reached, it could become a plea and sentencing hearing.
TRIAL: An official hearing in which either a jury (jury trial) or judge (bench trial) hears the facts of the case. Through physical evidence and testimony by witnesses, the prosecutor attempts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant’s guilt. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge may sentence the defendant immediately or set the case for a sentencing hearing.
SENTENCING: A court hearing in which the judge decides how to punish and rehabilitate the defendant. A sentencing hearing follows a plea of guilty or no contest plea or a finding of guilty by a jury or judge.