What Happens in a Georgia Felony Case?
The idea that you might face Georgia state felony charges is intimidating. If you have been charged with a serious crime, you need to know the road ahead of you in the Georgia courts so that you can make the right decisions now and make winning your case easier later. Find out what happens in a felony case, and how your attorney can help you reduce the sentence or even get the felony case dismissed.
What Kinds of Crimes are Felonies in Georgia?
Any crime with a potential punishment of at least one year in prison is a felony. This covers a wide variety of illegal behavior. Some of the most common felonies involve:
- Property crimes including and burglary
- Aggravated assault
- Drug possession, trafficking, and distribution
- Theft including identity theft, armed robbery, and auto theft (depending on the value of the vehicle)
- Violent crimes including human trafficking, sexual exploitation of children, murder, manslaughter, and domestic abuse and child abuse
Georgia Felony Court Process
Being charged with a felony in Georgia starts a complicated legal process that could take months, or even years to complete. Working with a criminal defense attorney with experience in the Georgia court system can help you take full advantage of your rights under that process.
Sometimes you may know you are under investigation before the prosecuting attorney presses charges. It is a good idea to hire an attorney during this investigation stage to address any requests for documents or questioning while protecting your constitutional rights.
If you are arrested and charged with a felony you will be brought before a magistrate judge for an initial appearance within 48 - 72 hours depending on the circumstances of your arrest (warrant versus warrantless). This hearing often happens inside the jail. It allows you to learn the formal charges against you, and enter a plea of not guilty. The magistrate judge will then decide whether to release you on bail or hold you in jail until trial. However, there are some types of severe felonies that a magistrate judge cannot set bail for. In those cases, your criminal defense attorney will need to request bail later from a superior court judge.
Preliminary Hearing (Committal)
Next, a preliminary hearing, sometimes called a committal or probable cause hearing, may be held in front of a magistrate judge. At this “mini-trial”, the prosecutor must show that there is enough evidence to support the charges filed against you. You can choose to waive this hearing.
If you were released on bail you are not entitled to a preliminary hearing in Georgia. However, the hearing is often helpful for your attorney to see how the witnesses perform on the stand, preserve their testimony, and expose the holes in the prosecutor’s case. If at the end of this hearing, the judge determines there is not probable cause to believe you committed the offense, the felony charges will be dismissed or submitted to a grand jury.
Grand Jury Indictment
If you have been charged with a severe crime, including a capital crime with a possible death sentence, Georgia law gives you an extra layer of protection in the form of a grand jury indictment. Unlike lesser crimes, which can be filed by the prosecutor as an information or accusation, indictments must be submitted to a grand jury made up of 16-23 citizens within the county where the crime occurred.They must determine whether the evidence supports the charges. They can vote to indict you, or have the case dismissed.
As a criminal defendant, you have a right to see the evidence against you before trial. This is called discovery, and it is an essential part of any criminal defense. By carefully reviewing the evidence, your attorney may be able to find conflicting testimony, technical errors or procedural problems that could get your felony case dismissed or key evidence excluded from trial.
If your attorney does find problems with the prosecution’s case within the evidence, he or she may choose to file a pre-trial motion to suppress that evidence or even dismiss the case entirely. Winning these pre-trial motions can improve your chances of being offered a favorable plea deal, making it harder for the prosecutor to prove your case.
Many cases do not go to trial. Instead, you may decide, with the advice of your attorney, to accept a plea deal to lessen the severity of your offense and reduce your sentence. If you decide to enter a plea deal, you will need to admit your guilt at a pre-trial hearing.
If you choose not to plead guilty, you and your attorney will likely spend months preparing for trial. At trial both sides present evidence to the jury. The prosecutor must prove each element of the alleged crime happened beyond a reasonable doubt. Your lawyer will be focused on showing jurors that the State cannot meet its burden of proof by demonstrating weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. You may also need to present evidence of any affirmative defenses, like self-defense in a murder case.
You have the right to testify in your own trial. However, there are many reasons not to. You should discuss your testimony, and whether it is needed, with your attorney before you decide to take the stand.
After all the evidence is presented, each attorney will have an opportunity to argue their case to the jury, and the judge will give the jury its instructions. Then the jury will deliberate and return a verdict of either guilty or not guilty to each charge.
If you are found guilty or enter a plea agreement, your sentence won’t always be announced immediately. The judge can choose to sentence you immediately or request presentence investigations from the prosecutor and probation offices. Your criminal defense attorney’s advocacy is essential at the sentencing phase. The prosecutor will likely overlook or downplay mitigating factors that could shorten your sentence. Be sure to work with your lawyer all the way through the final hearing to make sure the punishment fits the crime.
Get Help from Lawyers for Felony Cases
If you are facing Georgia felony charges, it is important to contact a criminal defense lawyer right away to begin to build your defense. At the McCoy Law Firm, LLC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys understand the local court system, and know what it takes to get you a prompt and fair outcome. If you have been charged with a crime, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.