The criminal justice system can be very trying and difficult to understand.  Therefore, we hope to give you a better understanding of what Criminal Court is, how it operates, and how that might affect you and your case.


Misdemeanor and felony cases in District Court stem directly from a warrant signed by a victim or law enforcement officer.  Generally, felony cases can arrive in Circuit Court one of three ways:  by way of indictment, by presentment or by information.



Alabama law requires that a grand jury return an indictment before someone can be called to trial for a felony offense.  Grand jury proceedings are confidential and customarily a "one-sided" process, in that the grand jury normally hears only that information presented by an attorney for the prosecution which tends to show the commission of a crime.  Usually the grand jury does not hear evidence for the defense, and must determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that a specific person or persons committed it based solely on the information presented by a prosecutor.  If the grand jury finds that probable cause exists, then it will return an "indictment," which begins the proceedings in Circuit Court.  Typically, someone is arrested for a felony offense months before the grand jury hears any information by a prosecutor.  However, this is not always the case.


Direct Presentment

Another way cases get to Circuit Court is by direct presentment. A police agency, after investigating a case, is not required to obtain an arrest warrant for a suspect but can, with the assistance of the District Attorney's office, proceed directly to the grand jury. This will, of course, deny a person an opportunity to have a preliminary hearing in District Court, which must be requested in writing within 30 days of an arrest.


A direct presentment is similar to an indictment.  The only real difference is that on a presentment, the case did not begin by the issuance of an arrest warrant and travel through District Court.  The case went directly to the grand jury.


By Information

Finally, a case can proceed to Circuit Court by way of "information".  An information usually bypasses the grand jury process. A person can only be charged by way of information with their consent. Usually, an information is done if a person wants to speed up the process and get the matter to Circuit Court quickly.  On most occasions, a person agrees to be charged by way of information because they intend to plead guilty to a felony in Circuit Court.  Whether an information is appropriate in your case is a significant  decision to make and should be done only after careful and detailed  communication with your lawyer.


Pleading Guilty:


Pleading guilty to a crime might resolve your case quickly, but pleading guilty to a crime - even a misdemeanor - can also result in you:


  • being jailed;
  • being placed on probation, where you might have to report to a probation officer, pay probation fees, submit to (and pay for) random drug tests, report back to court and possibly lose your freedom (if a drug screen is positive or you are arrested for a new offense, for example);
  • having to pay court costs;
  • losing your driver's license;
  • being evicted from public housing;
  • being deported;
  • losing your children or having your parental rights terminated;
  • suspended or dismissed from school;
  • losing your financial aid or scholarship;
  • losing your right to vote; and,
  • losing your right to own, possess, or be physically around a gun.


 Whether you are guilty of what you have been charged with or not, you should think long and hard before you waive your right to a lawyer. A lawyer can:


  • discover what the witnesses, police and others are saying you did;
  • discover potential legal and/or factual defenses you might have in your case;
  • advise you of the hidden consequences of a guilty plea;
  • help you determine whether pleading guilty is the right thing for you to do;
  • negotiate the best possible resolution to your case; and
  • arrange for needed social services for you and your family.


  If you can't afford a lawyer, the court will provide one at little or no charge for you.  Waiving your right to a lawyer is something you may regret for the rest of your life.