Felony and Misdemeanor
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Criminal charges generally fall into two categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Felonies, the more serious charges, are those crimes which are potentially punishable by imprisonment in a State prison. Misdemeanors are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year.
Stages of a Felony in Oklahoma
Stage 1 of an Oklahoma Felony: Arrest
A felony prosecution commences with an arrest, followed by a complaint being filed in the superior court. In some rare cases, the prosecution may instead seek an indictment from the grand jury. The defendant is set for arraignment within a few days, although this time period may be longer if the defendant posts bail and is out of custody. At this first court appearance, at which the defendant must appear, the court reads the charges filed, and usually addresses the matter of bail, if the defendant is still in custody. The defendant is appointed counsel if he cannot afford to retain an attorney. A plea (almost universally, not guilty) is entered. Dates for a readiness conference, followed by a preliminary examination, are set.
Stage 2 of an Oklahoma Felony: First Readiness Conference
At the first readiness conference, counsel confers with the deputy district attorney, and confirms or resets the date for the preliminary examination. At this point, defense counsel should have received the initial discovery materials from the prosecutor’s office. This generally consists of police reports, witness statements and any initial tests results. Discussions regarding a possible deposition may also begin at this appearance.
Stage 3 of an Oklahoma Felony: Preliminary Examination
At the preliminary examination, the prosecutor is required to present the “bare bones” of his case against the defendant. He must present “some evidence” to lead the judge to believe that a crime has been committed and a strong suspicion that the defendant is guilty of that crime or crimes. The standard of proof is relatively low, therefore most defendants are “bound over” for trial.
Stage 4 of an Oklahoma Felony: Second Arraignment
A second arraignment is then held-some judges actually arraign the defendant immediately following the preliminary examination. In either case, a second readiness conference is set, as well as a trial date. The defendant has the right to a “speedy trial,” which means the trial must begin within 60 days of the date of this arraignment.
Stage 5 of an Oklahoma Felony: Second Readiness Conference
At the second readiness hearing, discussions with the prosecutor regarding a possible plea bargain usually intensify, as both parties by then have a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the case, the defendant’s background, etc. Not only in Oklahoma, but nationwide, approximately 95% of criminal cases filed in court are settled by some type of plea bargain.
Stage 6 of an Oklahoma Felony: Trial
If a case does proceed to trial, a jury of 12 persons is selected, assuming a jury is not waived and a “bench trial” (a trial before a judge only) is held instead, which is rare. Once the jury is selected and sworn, counsel gives their opening statements. This is followed by the prosecution presenting its case. Afterwards, the defense presents its case. The judge may then instruct the jury on the applicable law. The prosecutor gives a closing argument, followed by the defense counsel. The prosecutor, but not the defense, is allowed a second argument, which is the last word. The judge then gives the jury its final instructions and they retire to deliberate, in secret. A verdict – guilty or not guilty – must be unanimous, which means that all 12 jurors must agree on the verdict. If a unanimous verdict cannot be reached, one way or the other, a mistrial is declared.
Stage 7 of an Oklahoma Felony: Sentencing
A felony conviction presents two types of possible sentences. In the first, the defendant is granted formal probation (unless the charge is reduced to a misdemeanor). This may include the requirement that the defendant spend some time (up to one year) in county jail, make restitution, etc. In the second, probation is denied and the defendant is sentenced to state prison for either a “low”, “middle” or “high” term. State prison is usually reserved for cases involving more serious charges, including weapons, violence, drug sales, sex offenses, serious injury or death; and for defendants with prior felony convictions.
Stage 8 of an Oklahoma Felony: Appeals
In all cases where a trial was held, and the defendant is found guilty of some charge, an appeal may be filed. An appeal is not a second trial of the case, as the appellate courts generally will not re-examine the evidence presented. Rather, an appeal contends that some error of the law occurred during trial, which requires that the case be remanded for a new trial or a different sentence. If a guilty plea was entered, the defendant may only appeal the sentence, try to withdraw the guilty plea, or appeal the denial of a suppression motion, if one was made and denied prior to the entry of the plea. Appeals generally go first to the Oklahoma Court of Appeals, except for death penalty cases, which go directly to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. If denied, a petition for review can then be filed in the State Supreme Court. From there, a defendant may seek review in the federal courts by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the federal district court. An appeal may then be taken to the circuit court of appeals, followed by a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. Overall, in criminal appeals, less then 10% are granted in whole or in part.
Stage 9 of an Oklahoma Felony: Expungements
If a defendant is granted probation and successfully completes it, in many cases the charges can then be reduced to a misdemeanor, or “expunged” from their record.
Stages of a Misdemeanor in Oklahoma
Stage 1 of an Oklahoma Misdemeanor: Charges
Misdemeanors are the lesser of the two types of criminal charges in Oklahoma, typically punishable by fines and/or imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year. Misdemeanors include such offenses as petty theft, drunk driving, simple assault and domestic violence.
Stage 2 of an Oklahoma Misdemeanor: Arraignment
When charged with a misdemeanor, the first court appearance is the arraignment. If represented by counsel, the defendant does not have to appear in court, except in domestic violence cases, where this appearance is mandatory. In fact, if represented by counsel, a misdemeanant probably will never have to make a personal court appearance, if he or she so chooses. At the arraignment, a formal charge is filed by the prosecutor and the defendant is asked to enter a plea. If in custody, the amount of bail is usually reviewed.
Stage 3 of an Oklahoma Misdemeanor: Discovery
Following arraignment, the defense counsel is provided with “discovery” materials by the prosecutor. This includes police reports regarding the case, witness statements, photographs, etc. Having received these materials, the attorney is then prepared for the next appearance, which is deemed a “readiness conference.” The purpose of this hearing is essentially to determine whether a settled disposition – a.k.a. “plea bargain” – can be reached. If so, the defendant signs a written plea agreement, which the attorney submits to the court and the sentence is then imposed. If not, the case proceeds to trial.
Stage 4 of an Oklahoma Misdemeanor: Trial
In any case in which the defendant is potentially liable to receive a term of imprisonment, he or she has a constitutional right to be tried by a jury. Barring a negotiated settlement, the case will proceed to trial. A verdict, whether a finding of guilty or not guilty, must be unanimous or a mistrial is declared. If the defendant is found not guilty, the case is ended. There can be no retrial, based on the Double Jeopardy Clause. If found guilty, a sentencing hearing is set. As noted, misdemeanors carry a maximum of one year in jail and a $10,000 fine. An appeal to the appellate department of the superior court may be taken, if the defendant desires.