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Felony charges in district court


This paper provides general information regarding how felony cases are handled while it is pending in district court. To ensure the best out come, each case must be individually evaluated to ensure the best outcome.

Option 1: Taking chances and playing with fire.

A probable cause hearing is not a formal trial on whether or not you are guilty or innocent of the felony crime charged. It is a hearing before a district court judge where the State, by using non-hearsay evidence, has to prove to the judge that the crime charged probably happened and that you are probably responsible. It is a very low standard, much lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required to for a criminal conviction. You do not have a constitutional right to have a probable cause hearing.

The hearing itself takes place before a district court judge. I do not normally suggest that my client takes the stand to testify for tactical reasons, but again, every case is different. Since the defense has no rights to discovery materials at this point, the hearing may give us valuable information to assess the strength and weaknesses of the case. If a hearing is held and the judge finds no probable cause, then the case is dismissed. If the State is not prepared to proceed, and the State has already had a continuance, then the case also may get dismissed.

This is not necessarily the end of the case. The State can present your case to a grand jury for a finding of probable cause. If the grand jury does find probable cause, and my law professor Irvin Joyner has once said in class: “a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich!”, then a “true bill” is returned and you will be served with an indictment giving you notice of the charge and your superior court date of appearance. Upon indictment, you may have to post a new bond to ensure your continued freedom.

Sometimes when a defendant holds the State’s feet over the fire by requesting a probable cause hearing, they are told by the prosecutor that they will just take a dismissal for now and have the defendant indicted. While this is still playing within the rules of criminal procedure and is not considered to be prosecutorial misconduct, it certainly gives the defendant something to think about. If indicted, the defendant may have to post a new bond.

If you decide against having a probable cause hearing, then read option 2 below.

Option 2: Riding it out in district court.
If your felony criminal case is pending in district court, you can chose to ride the case out and hope the State will eventually offer you a plea to a misdemeanor charge or just flat out take a dismissal for whatever reason. This is a more passive approach to handling a felony case in district court. Your case will get continued over and over and over and over, some times it can take over a year in district court before some sort of resolution is reached. That resolution however, may nevertheless be an indictment by the grand jury.

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