The following is a brief description of a felony case. There is no specific information available in this Self-Help Center to aid you with the entire legal process. Unless you waive the right to an attorney, you must be represented by an attorney in a felony case. In some situations, the court may appoint an attorney to represent you.
A felony case begins when someone is accused of committing one or more serious crimes. The government, represented by the prosecuting attorney, begins a criminal case by filing a complaint against the individual (called the defendant). If the defendant has not already been arrested, a warrant for arrest will be issued when the complaint is filed. A felony case is filed with the district court but will be transferred to the circuit court for trial if the district court finds there is probable cause that the defendant committed the crime(s).
What Happens When You are Arrested
If you have been arrested for breaking a criminal law, you will be taken to the district court for an arraignment. You will be held by the police or sheriff until a bond is set and/or the arraignment takes place. The arresting police department will know where and when the arraignment will take place.
The arraignment is held before a district court judge or magistrate. At the arraignment, the judge or magistrate will explain to you (the defendant) the charges, your constitutional rights, and the possible consequences if you are convicted of the charge. The court also determines whether you can be released on bond and, if so, will set the bail amount and collect the bail. At that time, a date will be set for a preliminary examination.
The court may appoint an attorney to represent you if you are unable to afford an attorney. In a criminal case, a defendant who is unable to afford an attorney has the right to court-appointed counsel if the offense charged requires on conviction a minimum term in jail, or the court determines that it might sentence the defendant to jail. You should ask the court if you qualify for court-appointed counsel. See information about court-appointed attorney.
Bail and Types of Bonds
A person, called a defendant, who is arrested for breaking a criminal law, may be held until a bail amount is set or an arraignment is held by a judge or magistrate. Posting a bond is a promise that the defendant will appear in court when required and will refrain from any activity the judge or magistrate orders.
The four types of bonds are a personal recognizance bond, a cash bond, a ten percent bond, and a surety bond. They are explained below:
- When the court sets a personal recognizance bond, the defendant is released after making a promise to return to court when required. No money is paid.
- A cash bond is a money guarantee that the defendant will return to court when required. When a cash bond is set, the defendant must pay the full bail amount to the court before being released from jail.
- Another type of bond is a ten-percent bond. In this bond, the court will accept payment of ten percent of the full bail amount as a guarantee that the defendant will appear as required. If the defendant does not appear, the court will require payment of the remaining ninety percent.
- The last type of bond is a surety bond. A surety bond is a promise made by an approved bondsman that the defendant will appear as required. A bondsman must prove to the court that he or she has sufficient financial resources to pay the full bail amount if the defendant does not appear as required.
Money or property that is posted for a bond might not be returned when the case is over. The court may apply cash and ten percent bond money posted by the defendant to pay any outstanding court fines, costs, or other assessments.
Regardless of the type of bond, if the defendant does not return to court as promised, the court will issue an arrest warrant and the bond money will be forfeited. In addition, the defendant may be held responsible for paying the remaining unpaid bail amount.
Processing Felony Cases
If you are accused of committing a felony, a preliminary examination must be conducted by the district court in the county where the crime took place within 14 days of the arraignment. If the district judge determines there is enough evidence, the case will be transferred to circuit court for trial.
At the circuit court level, another arraignment is held, unless it is waived by your attorney. If you are not represented by an attorney, you may not waive the arraignment. You will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, or you may stand mute. After the arraignment, a trial date will be set. The time between arraignment and trial is used to prepare for trial. Often, the prosecutor and the defendant will make a plea agreement.
After conviction at the trial or as the result of a plea agreement, the court will schedule a date for sentencing unless you are found not guilty or the case is otherwise dismissed.
At the sentencing hearing, the judge will order the penalties for conviction.
Penalties for Felony Cases
If the court finds you guilty of a criminal offense, you may have to pay a fine, court costs, and other assessments and you may have to spend time in jail or prison. Depending on the crime, a conviction for a felony can result in a sentence of up to life in prison.
Probation and Parole
Your sentence may include probation. Probation allows you to live in the community as long as you follow certain rules set by the court. If any of the rules are violated, a warrant for your arrest may be issued and the judge may resentence you. As an example of a probationary sentence, the judge may decide that so long as you are not arrested again and regularly meet with your probation officer, you may not have to serve a jail or prison sentence.
Parole is a conditional release from prison. You may not be released from prison before your minimum term has been completed. The court will set conditions that you must follow, or you may be returned to prison.