I’ve been charged with a felony. What do I do now?

What is a felony?

Felonies generally differ from misdemeanors by the potential sentence that can be imposed. While misdemeanors usually carry potential incarceration in a local or county jail for up to one year, felonies may be punishable by incarceration in a state or federal penitentiary for one year or more. Crimes that are charged as a felony often include crimes that could result in serious physical or financial harm to others.

What is the felony process?

If you’ve been charged with a felony, your freedom is in jeopardy. Even a short prison term can affect your current employment as well as future job opportunities. Consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to make sure your rights are protected during each step of the criminal proceedings. Defending felony charges without a criminal defense attorney is like performing open heart surgery on yourself without any medical training. And pleading guilty to a felony without having a criminal defense attorney review your defenses, protecting your rights and working with the prosecutor on the best resolution possible is like crossing a busy street with your eyes closed.

Here’s a brief overview of the process faced by defendants charged with a felony:

  • Arraignment: You may be arraigned in a lower court after you are arrested and charged with a felony. If this happens, you will be advised of your rights and the court will consider an appropriate amount of bail to ensure that you appear for your next hearing. You cannot enter a plea to felony charges if your first appearance is in a lower court.
  • Felony Arraignment and Pleading: At the felony arraignment, you will be given a copy of the charges brought against you. The court will review your rights and explain the charges and potential penalties you are facing. You may be provided with a public defender to represent you if you are indigent and meet the necessary qualifications. If you have a personal attorney who can take the necessary time to defend you and protect your best interests, he or she should be at this hearing. The court may ask you if you want your charges read against you, or if you want to waive a formal reading of the charges. Then you will be asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.
  • Setting Bail: Bail will be set to ensure that you show up to your next hearing. Your attorney may be able to convince the judge to release you on your own recognizance (sometimes referred to as “O.R.”) depending on the seriousness of the charges, your past criminal history and other factors. If bail was set by the lower court, your attorney can ask the court to reconsider the bail amount or release you O.R.
  • The Prosecution: You may have a chance to see the prosecutor for the first time at your felony arraignment. As with any criminal charge, the state must prove every element of the felony charge brought against you beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the arraignment is not part of the trial, so the state does not have to prove its case and you will not be able to defend the charges against you until trial.
  • Setting Your Case for Trial: The court may set future hearing dates during your arraignment and may also set a trial date. You have a right to a speedy trial, but your attorney may decide it is better to waive that right to buy more time to prepare or gather facts.

Defending felony criminal charges is complicated and depends on a careful analysis of facts and the law. An attorney familiar with the criminal justice system can make arguments on your behalf, work toward reducing your bail amount, gather facts from the prosecutor and bring motions that can dramatically affect the outcome of your case.