What Happens at Court?
Lawyers spend so much time in court that they often forget that, what may be everyday business to them, is likely extremely intimidating for their clients! Most people do not spend a whole lot of time in court and if they are going for themselves, or a loved one, it is likely their first ever trip to the courthouse for anything other than a car tag!
Our goal is to make that that process easy and to make sure that you are not nervous whatsoever when you walk into the courthouse. In general, court processes are at least a little different from county to county. There are many reasons for this, but primarily you are dealing with different sheriff's offices (who are in charge of courthouse security), facilities are different from place to place, and the court personnel vary from county to county.
We will go through the different kinds of court dates and what to expect at those particular types of court dates. Then, there will be links to some county specific pages to help with parking, security, and where to go when you get parked.
Your arraignment is first court date (other than a first appearance and/or preliminary hearing if you were in custody). This is the least eventful of all of your court dates, but it serves several purposes.
Formally, arraignment is day for you to have your charges read aloud to you by the court. In today's age, however, it is common practice to waive that formal reading and instead just go over your charges with your attorney. Your attorney will likely "waive formal arraignment" meaning they will let the judge know that he does not have to read the formal charges against you. Trust me, no judge wants to read a full indictment aloud in court! Waiving formal arraignment helps you get started on the correct foot.
Another common practice on arraignment date is the delivery of discovery material from the prosecutor to your attorney. Sometimes, your attorney may have gotten discovery earlier than your arraignment date, but generally they should always leave arraignment with discovery.
So, when you go to arraignment plan on having a seat in the courtroom (if you are early). It is generally very busy in the courtroom. When the judge comes in he will begin to read down a list of names and eventually he will come to your name. At that point, your attorney will likely stand up and something something like, "Your honor, we waive formal arraignment and enter a plea of not guilty." At that point the judge will put you down for a new court date - what we call in the Coweta Judicial Circuit a non-jury day.
During the course of your pending criminal matter you will likely have several court appearances. Most of them will be non-jury dates. In the Coweta Judicial Circuit these non-jury days are where the work gets done! Non-Jury days have a little bit of everything. If you sat through an entire non-jury day, you may see some negotiated guilty pleas, non-negotiated pleas various motion hearings in front of the judge, probation revocation hearings, and whatever else may present itself to the court that day.
This is day for negotiation; all cases can end in a trial. Whether the case goes to trial or not, leading up to a trial your attorney and the prosecutor are going to engage in plea negotiations. And if a deal that is acceptable presents itself then that is certainly an option.
Judges primarily want to hear what the plan is for your case on these days. Is it is close to being over, is it going to trial, is it a plea, are there motions that need to be heard. Those are things a judge is interested in on a non-jury day.
A trial calendar is where the rubber meets the road. When a defendant pleads not guilty, demands a jury trial, and demands that the prosecutors try and prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then a trail calendar is the place to be. It is on these calendars that the clerk of court summons jurors from the county, your attorney will pick a jury, and your case will be tried.
It is true, however, that resources and time are limited. There are only so many jurors and only so many judges. So, on a trial calendar it is common that only a few cases are tried. So, when you are demanding a trial, you may be on several trial calendars before you are afforded the opportunity to have your case tried.