Understanding Criminal Justice
A criminal case usually begins when the police arrest someone. The person arrested becomes known as the Defendant. The first court date that the Defendant will have is called a FIRST APPEARANCE.
According to Georgia law only defendants charged with misdemeanors are entitled to bail as a matter of right. “The purpose of a pretrial bond is to prevent punishment before a conviction and to secure the presence of the accused in court for trial.” Ayala v. State, 262 Ga. 704 (1993).
Once a person is arrested, they have a preliminary hearing in Magistrate Court to determine if their case should be bound over or sent to a higher court. Misdemeanors are sent to State Court and felonies are sent to Superior Court. In reality, misdemeanors are sent to the Solicitor General’s office for further prosecution, and felonies are sent to the District Attorney’s office for further prosecution.
Discovery is the process by which the prosecution and defense exchange information about a criminal case. The rules of discovery are set out in O.C.G.A. § 17-16-1 thru O.C.G.A. § 17-16-23 known as the Criminal Procedure Discovery Act (“the Act”). Prior to passage of the Act, there was no comprehensive Georgia statute or rule of law which governed discovery in criminal cases.
Most criminal cases are disposed of by a guilty plea. A guilty plea usually begins when a prosecutor makes a plea offer to the defense. Among the factors a prosecutor considers are the nature of the crime alleged, the defendant’s criminal history, and any input from the alleged victim. Once the prosecution makes a plea offer, the defense can make a counter-offer or simply accept the state’s offer.