This section is tailored to criminal misdemeanor proceedings in Tulsa County although much of the information contained herein is also applicable to misdemeanor proceedings in other counties in Oklahoma.
OUTLINE OF MISDEMEANOR PROCEEDINGS
After arrest, and charges are filed, the defendant will be given a date to appear in court. This initial court appearance is called the ARRAIGNMENT. The Arraignment is a very simple setting that I refer to as a “show up and say hi day”. The Arraignment is used by the court to inform the defendant of the crime that he/she has been charged with, and more importantly, to insure that the defendant is going appear. At arraignment the Judge will then enter a not guilty plea on the defendant’s behalf and set a new court date, which, in Tulsa County, is referred to as the Jury Trial Sounding Docket. The Jury Trial Sounding Docket setting will generally be within 30 days of the date of arraignment.
The Jury Trial Sounding Docket setting, or JTS, is an important setting because it is the first setting that the defense has a chance to negotiate with the prosecution in an attempt to resolve the matter. From this point the case will go one of three direction: 1) Plea Bargain 2) Motion Hearing 3) Trial Date. The decision on which of these options to take should be made by the person charged only after being advised by their attorney; this decision is up to the person charged and them alone.
Most misdemeanor charges are resolved through plea bargains. A plea bargain is agreement reached that provides a resolution of the case without the necessity of a trial. Plea bargains generally fall into one of four categories: 1) Straight Sentence 2) Split Sentence 3) Suspended Sentence 4) Deferred Sentence. (Please see SENTENCES for a description of the different type of sentences.) In some situations a plea bargain might not be the best option and that is when the case is set for either a Motion Hearing or Trial.
A Motion Hearing is used when there is an aspect of the case that the defense feels needs to be ruled on by a judge. For example, the defense might request a Motion Hearing to suppress evidence that resulted from an illegal search. The Motion Hearing itself is a mini trial on a certain issue or issues. At this hearing testimony will be taken and the lawyers will make legal argument to the Judge who will rule on the issue. If the Judge rules in the defenses favor at this hearing the case may be dismissed, reduced to a lesser charge by the prosecution, or the prosecution could decide to pursue the case minus the evidence that was suppressed. If the case is dismissed the accused person is free to go. If the case is not dismissed the accused person has the option of entering into a plea bargain with the prosecution or setting the case for trial.
The TRIAL! Trial is composed of Jury selection, Opening Statements, Presentation of Evidence, Jury Instructions, Closing Arguments and Deliberation.
Jury Selection: Choosing a jury from a panel of individuals summoned for Jury Duty. This is done through a question and answer process known as Voir Dire.
Opening Statements: Statements made to the jury by both the prosecution and the defense that will outline the case for the jury.
Presentation of Evidence: This is what people generally think of as the trial. This portion involves the calling of witness and questioning of those witnesses by both the prosecution and defense
Jury Instructions: At this point the Judge will instruct the jury on the law that is applicable to the case. See Jury Instructions for a list of jury instructions in Oklahoma.
Closing Arguments: The Prosecution and Defense are able to argue their interpretation of the evidence to the jury at this time.
Deliberation: The Jury attempts to make a decision in the case.
Straight Sentence: A Straight Sentence is when a defendant pleads or is found guilty, the court enters a finding of guilt (formally convicting the person of the crime), and the person is sentence to serve time in jail or prison (e.g. 1 year in county jail). In this situation the defendant will be taken into custody to serve out their sentence. This means that the defendant will actually do the time that he/she has been sentenced to under lock and key in a correctional facility. This is commonly referred to as "in time".
Split Sentence: A split sentences occurs when a defendant pleads or is found guilty, the court enters a finding of guilt (formally convicting the person of the crime), the defendant is sentence to serve time in jail or prison (e.g. 1 year in county jail) and the sentence is split between "in time" and probation. An example of this would be a defendant who is sentenced to 1 year in county jail with 6 months to be served in jail, “in time”, and the other six months is suspended and the defendant will do that time on probation. The court has split the sentence between time in jail and probation. Time spent on probation is commonly referred to as doing time “on paper” or “paper time”.
Suspended Sentence: A suspended sentence occurs when a defendant pleads or is found guilty, the court enters a finding of guilt (formally convicting the person of the crime), the defendant is sentenced to serve time in jail or prison (e.g. 1 year in county jail) and that time is suspended by the court allowing the defendant to do it on probation rather than in a jail cell.
Deferred Sentence: A deferred sentence occurs when a defendant pleads guilty and the court defers the finding of guilt for a set period of time (e.g. 1 year). This means that the court never enters a finding of guilt; instead the court withholds the finding of guilt during the defendant's probationary period. If the defendant successfully completes the probationary period the court will withdraw the defendant’s plea of guilty and dismiss the charges against him/her. The benefit of a deferred sentence is that a defendant has the ability to keep a criminal conviction off their record.