Criminal Process and Procedures in Georgia

The criminal justice system is essentially the same in all states, but there are a specific differences regarding how these procedures are implemented in Georgia.

Arrest Process

You can be arrested in Georgia on the basis of a warrant issued for probable cause or if the arresting officer sees you commit a crime. After your arrest, the office must advise you of your right to remain silent and let you know that if you don't remain silent, whatever you say can be used against you in court. The officer must also tell you that you have the right to have a lawyer present during questioning. If the charge against you involves potential jail time, the court will appoint a lawyer for you if you can't afford one. Your income must fall below certain thresholds so you can qualify for a public defender. At a detention facility or jail, you'll be photographed and fingerprinted. All items in your possession will be taken and inventoried. You can call a lawyer or bond agent.

Bail and Release

At your initial court appearance, the judge will set a bond, release you on your own recognizance, or refuse to set bail. It depends on the severity of the offense you're charged with. The judge will also consider your ties to the community and your criminal history. You may be allowed to post a cash surety bond which represents 10 percent of the required bond, or you can use a bail bondsman.

Arraignment and Pleas

Your arraignment is typically held 48 hours after your arrest, or 72 hours if you were arrested on the basis of a warrant. The judge will ask you to enter a plea. If you plead guilty, you're admitting to the facts of the crime and that you committed the offense. If you plead not guilty, you're telling the court that you didn't commit the crime. The judge will set a pre-trial or trial date. If you plead no contest, you're not admitting to the charges but you're not disputing them either. A no contest plea is the same as a guilty plea, except it can't be used against you in a civil proceeding. You can also stand mute if you choose. The court will enter a plea of not guilty for you if you say nothing. In this case, you can attack any prior proceedings that you feel were irregular because you haven't admitted to any previous criminal charges.

Plea Agreement or Bargain

A plea agreement or bargain is a deal made between your attorney and the prosecutor that typically involves you pleading guilty in exchange for lesser charges or a reduced sentence. Over 90 percent of criminal cases are resolved in this manner.

Commitment Hearings and Grand Jury

You can waive your commitment hearing, also known as a preliminary hearing, if you're charged with a felony. The hearing determines if there is probable cause that a crime has been committed and that you committed the crime. If so, you're bound over for indictment by the grand jury.

Trial and Sentencing

Felony trials require 12 jurors, while misdemeanors require only six. A bench trial involves only a judge who serves as the finder-of-fact and who determines the verdict. The prosecution must prove each element of the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendants are presumed innocent and are not compelled to give testimony or to offer any evidence in their own defense. A jury must return a unanimous verdict on each charge to find you guilty. If you're found guilty, the judge can order a pre-sentence investigation, particularly for more serious cases. This investigation includes your employment records, your family situation, criminal history, the investigating officer's recommendation, and any other relevant information, including the severity of the crime.

Retain a Criminal Lawyer

Each state has different criminal law procedures. You shouldn't rely on a general summary that applies to all states. Consult with or retain a criminal defense attorney if you're facing criminal charges.

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