CRIMINAL LAW LESSON 101 – this post is simply to educate people about how the court operates on criminal cases. A person charged with a felony makes an initial appearance in Associate Circuit Court for an arraignment. Most of the time there is no attorney representing the Defendant at the initial appearance, and regardless of confessions, evidence, etc. the Defendant will not be allowed to plead guilty at the initial appearance.

The Associate Court determines if there was probable cause for arrest at a later hearing called a preliminary hearing, at this level the Court doesn’t determine guilt or innocence. If the Associate Circuit Court judge finds there was probable cause for the ARREST, the case is bound over to circuit court for trial and another arraignment date.

At the circuit level, the Defendant has counsel and may enter a guilty plea on the first appearance, but rarely does that happen. Guilt or innocence is determined by a jury trial or bench trial. There are many moving parts to the system, and those parts are designed to make sure Defendants receive fair representation and that everyone is following the rules of law.

Proper procedure helps to avoid the need for lengthy and expensive appeals. The fact someone pleads not guilty on a first appearance after the initial arrest is not NEWS. They don’t have the option of pleading guilty to the associate circuit judge without counsel. This is simply a procedure, and not an indicator of how the case will turn out in the end.

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