Your Augusta Criminal Case: The Basics
Every year out-of-towners come to your backyard for a golf tournament, but they don't always respect the region. And there you are, ready to forcibly command that respect. Being the proud resident that you are, you feel super bad and have a James Brown tune in your head at all times. You're ready for "the payback." Unfortunately, violence may (probably will) land you in serious criminal trouble.
Perhaps JB didn't have to know karate because he knew "ka-razy." But it might be similarly crazy to not learn the consequences of a criminal case in Augusta. FindLaw presents this guide to criminal law and procedure in the Garden City.
The Georgia Code -- which contains the State's written laws -- features two categories of criminal laws: (1) felonies and (2) misdemeanors. Felonies are more serious crimes, punishable by imprisonment for more than a year (or even death, in rare cases). Typical examples include the obviously serious and violent crimes such as robbery, rape, and murder. Other crimes are not as apparently serious, but are felonies nonetheless -- for example, certain kinds of theft and habitual DUI offenses.
Misdemeanors, on the other hand, are less serious, and punishable by a year or less behind bars. These crimes may include in some cases: trespassing, first-time DUI, loitering, and other seemingly minor crimes. In many cases, whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony depends on the specific circumstances of your case. It may be a good idea to request the assistance of an attorney as soon as possible after an arrest.
When a person is arrested, he/she gets booked at the Richmond County Jail. If you are interested in bailing out a loved one, call the booking desk for more information at (706) 821-1110.
An arrested person's first appearance in court is known as an "Initial Appearance." Within 72 hours of arrest, you will appear in the Richmond County Magistrate Court and be
- informed of the charges
- informed of your rights, and
- asked whether you need to have a lawyer appointed to your case.
At this time, the judge may also set bail if the law allows it.
The rules of Municipal, State, and Superior Courts also address initial appearances. They are substantially the same as written in those rule books, which are available online. In Augusta, however, it is the Magistrate Court that handles initial appearances. For more on local courts' duties, see FindLaw's article on Augusta courthouses.
Appointment of Counsel
A criminal defendants must apply with the court to have counsel appointed in his/her case. You must truthfully fill out an application describing your income, assets, and financial obligations. It is a crime to knowingly give false answers. The judge will make a determination of whether you are "indigent" and eligible to receive public defender services or another form of counsel. For a sample of the form, see page 66 of the Superior Court Rules(PDF).
The court rules for arraignment vary slightly by court. In each court, the accused may enter a plea of "guilty," "not guilty," or "nolo contendere" -- no contest. The Municipal Court Rules state that a defendant may, from here, waive his/her right to a jury trial. If so, the defendant may receive a bench trial -- trial without a jury in which the judge determines the facts -- in Municipal Court.
Choosing whether to proceed in a jury trial or a bench trial is an important piece of trial strategy. A defendant may want to consult with his/her attorney before making a final decision. Remember, however, that the final decision is yours to make, and does not belong to your attorney.
Prior to a criminal trial, both sides may have to give special notice of evidence to be presented, witnesses to be called, alibis, and legal defenses, and evidence of other crimes. As a defendant, you or your attorney generally must give the court notice of your defenses at least ten days before trial. A judge may change the deadline, so be sure to raise these questions with your attorney or the court at or soon after arraignment. See Superior Court Rule 31.1.
Jury Trial in State or Superior Court
The Superior Court is the only one that hears felony cases. Misdemeanor jury trials may be handled by either State or Superior Court. Felony trials feature twelve-person juries, while misdemeanor trials feature six-person juries. For more information on a juror's role in a case, see the State Bar's Juror Manual.
Bench Trial in Municipal Court
As mentioned earlier, a defendant may waive his/her right to a jury trial. After a defendant submits a written waiver, the prosecution has ten days to exercise its right to a jury trial.
Alternative Court Programs
Augusta criminal courts allow some defendants to proceed without a trial and possible jail time. An individual facing felony drug charges, for example, may enter a program to reduce the likelihood that he will continue to have drug-related criminal issues. You may want to ask your attorney about possible alternatives to trial and jail sentencing.