The Charging Process (click here to see flowchart of process)
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.
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.
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 to a crime might resolve your case quickly, but pleading guilty to a crime - even a misdemeanor - can also result in you:
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:
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.