Henry County’s Criminal Process
98 percent of all criminal cases begin with the defendant’s arrest. To arrest you, law enforcement must have probable cause to believe that you committed a crime. After arrest, the defendant is brought to the jail and detained until bond is set and posted.
When the defendant is charged with theft, drug possession, forgery, credit card fraud, or a non-violent misdemeanor, bond is set automatically when the defendant is brought to the jail. Bond is set according to a pre-set schedule. If this bond is posted, the defendant can be released within hours of arrest.
Certain charges (including battery, burglary, sale of drugs, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, vehicular homicide and child molestation) do not carry an automatic bond. In these cases, the defendant will be brought before a magistrate for a “first appearance.” First appearances occur in a special courtroom at the Henry County Jail at 8:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Generally, a person who is arrested before 5:00 a.m. will be brought to first appearance the next morning. However, those who are arrested on a Saturday have to wait until Monday for first appearance.
Committal Hearing (Also Called Probable Cause Hearing)
In Henry County, every defendant who is charged with a felony has a right to a probable cause hearing within 30 days of arrest. This is not a trial. At this hearing, the State has the burden of proving it is more likely than not that the Defendant committed the charged offense. The defendant has the right to subpoena witnesses and to cross-examine the state’s witnesses and the hearings are taped.
This is your only chance to cross-examine the witnesses against you prior to trial. Committal hearings are an important discovery tool and can keep the state’s witnesses from changing their stories later on. However, having a probable cause hearing is not always a good idea because it may preserve evidence which will hurt the defendant later on.
In most cases, it is difficult to get charges dismissed at a probable cause hearing. However, magistrate judges do dismiss charges when the State’s evidence is weak. If the magistrate finds probable cause to believe the defendant committed a crime, the charges will be “bound over” (send on) to a trial court.
At arraignment, the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, he is sentenced at arraignment and may go to jail or prison immediately. If the defendant pleads not guilty, his case will be placed on a trial calendar. Arraignment is not a trial and the court will not hear testimony or other evidence at arraignment.
However, arraignment is a critical stage of the criminal process because all motions, including motions for discovery and to suppress, must be filed within 10 days of arraignment. If you do not have a lawyer at arraignment, you may accidentally give up some of your most important rights.
A calendar call is a hearing at which the State and the Defense announce whether they are ready for trial. In State court, calendar calls occur one or two weeks prior to trial. In Superior Court, calendar calls on the first day of the trial week.
Typically, a misdemeanor case will only appear on a calendar one or two times before it is called for trial. However, a felony case may appear on the calendar many times before it is called for trial. Unless the Judge grants a continuance, any case on the trial calendar can potentially be called for trial. Accordingly, unless there is a legally valid reason for getting a continuance, the defendant must be ready for trial the first time his case is on the calendar.
Most misdemeanors are resolved within 3 to 8 months of arrest. Most felonies are resolved between 6 and 15 months after arrest, though some cases can take as long as 3 years. Filing a “speedy trial demand” can make the process move much more quickly. However, there can be substantial drawbacks to a speedy trial demand.