Your first court appearance is known as an arraignment. You will be informed of your rights and ask to sign your understanding of them. When called before the judge you will be informed of the criminal charges as well as any possible penalties for those charges. You’ll then need to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest which has the same fundamental consequences as guilty pleas, with the defendant receiving a conviction and accepting some kind of punishment. But the defendant doesn’t actually admit guilt.
If you plead guilty or no contest – you will be sentenced right then and there. You may have the opportunity to explain your situation to the judge and have him or her take your unique circumstances into consideration, but if you plead guilty with an explanation your case will not be dismissed. You are pleading guilty – don’t expect the judge to understand and then make your charges go away, that will not happen.
If you plead not guilty, the court will assign a trial date to the case. This is a hearing where you usually have to be present. At the trial both Defense and Prosecution present their evidence for the case; e.g. the Prosecution will get a chance to present their case. You should not interrupt or argue with the other Prosecution when it’s their turn to talk. If you want to make an official objection to what the Prosecution is saying, you should tell the judge you object or disagree and give the reasons you are objecting. If the Prosecution has a witness testify, you can ask questions of that witness. Remember though, there may be a risk in asking questions of a witness when you don’t know how the witness will respond.
In your defense, usually, it helps to tell the facts in chronological order. You should offer to show the judge any documents or evidence you have. If you have a witness you should let the judge know and then you should be prepared to ask your witness questions. The Prosecution will be given the chance to ask questions of your witness too. Remember – A witness must be someone who saw or heard what happened themselves. As you finish presenting your case, you should be sure to tell the judge exactly what you are asking the judge to do in your case.
At the end of the trial, both the defense and prosecution give a summation – which is a quick rundown of all the facts from the case to help the judge decide on a verdict.
After all evidence and the summations are presented, the judge will consider the evidence and find the Defendant guilty or not guilty.
If you are found not guilty, you will walk out the court and the case is over.
If you are found guilty, you will be sentenced for crimes found guilty of.