Deal Law Firm of Macon created this infographic on what generally happens when you are charged with a felony in Georgia. The number of step are more than most people realize and it is not as simple as it appears on television.
Normally, the first step is an arrest, in which you can be held for up to 72 hours before seeing a magistrate judge who will set a bond. The magistrate judge may deny bond in certain cases, depending on the charges, your status on probation, or other factors.
The case is then referred to a District Attorney who can bring charges before the grand jury. The grand jury is a group of your fellow citizens that hear the evidence against you and determine if the DA has enough evidence to go to trial. This is one of the most important checks on the power of government, as the grand jury can decide to “no bill” the case and the state may not proceed to a trial. This is rare, as a DA will rarely take a case that has no merit to the grand jury and the grand jury is instructed to view the evidence in a favorable light for the prosecution.
If a “true bill” is found by the grand jury, the case then goes to arraignment and the charges against the person, now called the “defendant,” are formally presented. To many people, it comes as a surprise that a defendant whose case has been true billed may have additional charges added to the ones he or she was originally arrested on. At arraignment, the defendant learns all of the charges against them, and enters a plea of guilty or not guilty.
After arraignment, the defendant will receive the state’s evidence against them. During this phase, the DA and the defense will negotiate a plea deal, or they will dig in their heels for trial. Various motions are entered at this time and are decided by the judge.
If it proceeds to trial, a jury is selected and the case is heard in superior court. Sometimes, the parties can still negotiate an outcome before the jury deliberates. If the jury acquits the defendant, the state may not bring charges on the same offense again. If the defendant is convicted, they may appeal to a higher court, potentially all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.
If you are ever charged with a felony, it is in your best interest to seek legal assistance as soon as possible. Felonies have significant fines and jail time as penalties and handle the case yourself “pro se” is risky. For those with financial needs, the state is required to offer a public defender.