You Have Been Charged with a Misdemeanor--What Happens Now?
This page provides basic information
about what typically happens in cases where a person is charged with a
misdemeanor criminal offense. It is not a complete description of the
judicial process, the laws that apply in criminal cases, or the rights
of a person accused of a crime. If you need further information or advice,
you should contact an attorney. Although court clerks can provide some
information (such as court schedules or the amount of filing fees), neither
the judge nor the court clerks can give you legal advice.
What is a misdemeanor?
Offenses can be grouped into three
general categories. The most serious are felonies, the penalty
for which can include a term in a state prison. Next are misdemeanors,
the penalty for which can include up to one year in a county jail. The
least serious are infractions (mostly traffic offenses), for
which the maximum penalty does not exceed a $100.00 fine plus court costs.
Procedures for different categories
of offenses are somewhat different. The procedure for the least serious
offenses (infractions) is the quickest and simplest. The procedure for
felonies is the most complicated, because the need to protect both the
public and the rights of the accused is greatest for the most serious
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor,
you will have been given a citation prepared by a police officer,
or a complaint prepared by a prosecutor. The citation or complaint
includes a short statement of the offense with which you are charged,
and states whether the offense is an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony.
In every criminal case, there are
two parties. The plaintiff is the State of Idaho, who
is represented by a county prosecutor (if you are charged with committing
a misdemeanor outside a city), or a city prosecutor (if you are charged
with committing a misdemeanor within a city). The person charged with
a crime is called the defendant.
I received a citation or complaint that says I am
charged with a misdemeanor. What happens next?
If you received a citation, it states
a date and time to appear at the county courthouse. If you received a
complaint, you will also have been given a summons that states
a date and time to appear at the county courthouse. The date and time
in the citation or summons is for an initial appearance (also
called an arraignment).
What happens at the initial appearance
The initial appearance is for the
court to inform you of your rights, to inform you of the charges and the
possible penalties, to find out if you want a lawyer, and to find out
if you want to plead guilty or not guilty.
You should appear at the courthouse
15 minutes before the time shown on your citation or summons,
and check in at the magistrate court clerk's office. The clerk can direct
you to the courtroom in which your case will be called.
Rights Form You are
given a rights form, which has important information about your
legal rights. When your case is called, the judge asks if you have read
the form and if you understand your rights. If you do not understand the
information in the form, tell the judge what you don't understand and
the judge will explain.
Charges and Possible Penalties
The judge tells you the charge(s) and the possible penalties, and asks
if you understand them. (At this point, the judge is asking only if you
understand the charges, the judge is not asking if you admit
to anything.) If you do not understand the charge or the possible penalties,
tell the judge what you don't understand and the judge will explain.
Right to Counsel
The judge asks if you want to be represented by a lawyer. If you want
a lawyer but can't afford one, you can ask the judge for a court-appointed
lawyer. If you ask for a court-appointed lawyer, you fill out a form or
the judge asks questions about your finances to make sure you qualify.
If the court appoints a lawyer for you, you may be required to reimburse
the county for all or part of the costs of the court-appointed lawyer.
A court-appointed lawyer is available only if the charge is one for which
jail time is possible.
Plea - Guilty or Not Guilty?
The judge asks if you want to plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead
guilty, you are admitting that you committed the offense with which you
are charged. You are also giving up your right to a trial and your right
to remain silent. If you are not sure whether you want to plead guilty
or not guilty, you can ask the judge to reschedule your initial appearance
for another day so you can talk to a lawyer first. You can also plead
not guilty, and talk to a lawyer before your next appearance or simply
leave it to the prosecution to try to prove its case.
Not Guilty Plea - Court or
Jury Trial? If you plead not guilty, the judge asks if you want
a court trial or a jury trial. In a court trial, the
judge hears the evidence and decides if you are guilty. In a jury trial,
six members of the community are called to be the jury, and the jury hears
the evidence and decides if you are guilty. If you are found guilty after
either a court trial or a jury trial, the judge decides the penalty (the
sentence). A court trial usually takes less than an hour, a jury
trial usually takes one full day.
If you plead not guilty, the judge
asks you for your current mailing address. The court schedules your trial
for another day, and notice of the date and time for your trial is mailed
to you at the address you give the court or to your attorney. The judge
does not listen to your testimony and decide if you are guilty
at your initial appearance.
Guilty Plea - Sentencing If
you plead guilty, the judge may decide the sentence at that time, or may
schedule a sentencing hearing for another day. At the time you are sentenced,
you may make a statement on your own behalf. Fines are due, and jail time
starts, at the time you are sentenced, unless you make other arrangements.
(See number 9 below for more information about sentencing.)
What if I am under 18?
If you are under 18 years of age,
you must have a parent or guardian with you at all court proceedings.
Your case will proceed the same as an adult case. Defendants who are under
18, and who are found guilty and sentenced to serve time in jail, serve
their time in a juvenile detention facility.
If you were served with a petition,
instead of a citation or complaint, then your case was brought under
the Juvenile Corrections Act and will proceed according to the Idaho Juvenile
Rules, and the information in this pamphlet does not apply.
I pled "not guilty" at
my initial appearance. What happens next?
The court schedules a pretrial
conference and trial, and notice of the date and time for your case
is mailed to you or your attorney. If you do not receive the notice within
a week or two after your initial appearance, call your attorney or the
court to find out when your next appearance will be.
If your case is set for a jury trial,
the court usually schedules a pretrial conference two to four weeks before
the trial. If your case is set for a court trial, the court usually does
not schedule a separate pretrial conference for another day prior to trial;
instead, the pretrial conference happens immediately before the trial.
What happens at a pretrial conference?
At the pretrial conference, both parties
must come prepared with the following information: a list of the names,
addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses they intend to call at trial,
and a list of any exhibits they intend to offer at trial. You are required
to attend the pretrial conference, even if you are represented by a lawyer.
You will have the opportunity to discuss
a plea bargain with the prosecution. The prosecution may agree to dismiss
or reduce the charge, or may agree to a particular sentence. You may decide
to change your plea to guilty. If an agreement is reached, the parties
must present their agreement to the court for the judge's approval. The
agreement is usually presented at the pretrial conference, but sometimes
this is scheduled for another day. If no agreement is reached, or if the
judge rejects the agreement, the case proceeds to trial.
In cases where there will be a jury
trial, other pretrial issues are also addressed at the pretrial conference.
The judge asks the parties if they will be filing any pretrial motions,
and sets a deadline for motions to be filed and heard by the court. (An
example of a pretrial motion is a motion to suppress evidence, where a
party filing the motion asks the court to decide prior to trial if certain
evidence can be used at trial.) The judge also asks the parties if there
is any discovery that has not been completed, and sets a deadline
for completion of discovery. (Discovery is a formal procedure for the
exchange of information between the parties.) The judge also addresses
any other issues that need to be resolved before trial.
What happens at a court trial?
A fundamental principle of our system
of justice is that the defendant is presumed to be innocent. This principle
has two important results. First, the prosecution has the burden to prove
that the defendant is guilty, and the prosecution has this burden throughout
the trial. Second, the prosecution must prove the defendant guilty beyond
a reasonable doubt. A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible or
imaginary doubt. It is the kind of doubt that would make an ordinary person
hesitant to act in the most important affairs of his or her own life.
Because the prosecution has the burden of proof, it goes first. The prosecutor
may make an opening statement, in which the prosecution summarizes
the evidence it is going to present. The defense may then make an opening
statement, in which the defense summarizes the evidence it is going to
present. The defense may wait to make its opening statement after the
prosecution has finished presenting its evidence. (The defense
refers to the defendant, and if the defendant is represented by an attorney,
to the defendant's attorney.)
The prosecution then begins calling witnesses. Each witness is sworn to
tell the truth, and takes a seat in the witness stand. The prosecution
asks questions of the witness (called direct examination); the
defense may then ask questions of the witness (called cross examination);
the prosecution may next ask questions to clarify matters that the witness
testified to on cross-examination (called redirect examination);
and the defense may then ask questions to clarify matters that the witness
testified to on redirect examination (called recross examination).
The judge may also ask questions of a witness.
After the last prosecution witness
testifies, the prosecutor says that the prosecution rests. After
the prosecution rests, the defense is entitled to present evidence, but
is not required to do so.
Defense Case If the
defense chooses to present evidence, the defense may then make its opening
statement, if it did not do so after the prosecution's opening statement.
The defense then begins calling its witnesses. Each witness is sworn to
tell the truth, and takes a seat in the witness stand. The defense asks
questions of the witness (called direct examination); the prosecution
may then ask questions of the witness (called cross examination); followed
by redirect and recross examination.
The defendant is entitled to testify
as a witness if the defendant chooses to do so. Because the defendant
has the right to remain silent, the defendant cannot be required to testify.
The judge cannot use the defendant's decision not to testify as evidence
that the defendant is guilty. If the defendant chooses to testify, then
the defendant has waived the right to remain silent; the prosecutor can
question (cross examine) the defendant, and the judge can also question
the defendant, the same as any other witness.
Prosecution Rebuttal Case
After the last defense witness testifies (after the defense rests),
the prosecution may call rebuttal witnesses. Rebuttal witnesses
are witnesses called to present testimony that answers (or rebuts) the
defense's evidence. Rebuttal witnesses are questioned in the same manner
as other prosecution witnesses.
can be either witness testimony or exhibits. Exhibits are physical
items such as photographs, documents, or other things. If a party (the
prosecution and/or the defense) has an exhibit it wants to offer
as evidence, the party must first call a witness who can identify the
exhibit. (For example, if a party wants to offer a photograph, the party
must call the person who took the photo, or someone else who can testify
that the photo is an accurate picture of the objects shown in the photo.)
Once the exhibit is properly identified, the party offering the exhibit
asks the court to admit the exhibit into evidence. The other party may
object if there is a reason why the exhibit should not be allowed. The
judge decides if the exhibit will be allowed. If the exhibit is not allowed,
then it is not part of the evidence, and the judge will not consider the
exhibit in deciding if the defendant is guilty.
While one party asks questions of
a witness, the other party may object either to the question or to the
witness' answer if there is a reason why the question or answer should
not be allowed. The Idaho Supreme Court has adopted rules, called the
Idaho Rules of Evidence, which the judge must apply in determining if
the judge will allow a question, a witness' answer, or an exhibit.
After the last rebuttal witness testifies, the prosecutor again says that
the prosecution rests. The prosecution may then present its closing
argument, in which the prosecution reviews the evidence and describes
how the evidence proves its case. The defense may then present its closing
argument, in which the defense reviews the evidence and describes how
it fails to prove the prosecution's case. After the defense' closing argument,
the prosecution may make a final closing argument.
Verdict After closing
arguments, the judge decides if the defendant is guilty. The court may
make its decision right after the closing arguments. If the judge needs
more time to think about the case, the judge takes the case under
advisement, and issues a written decision later.
If the judge finds the defendant guilty,
the judge determines the sentence.
Subpoenas - What
if there is a witness I need to have testify at trial, and I want to make
sure the witness shows up at the trial?
You can ask the court clerk to issue
a subpoena, which orders the witness to appear at the trial.
The subpoena must be delivered (served) to the witness, and a
return of service (a statement by the person delivering the subpoena
that service was completed) must be filed with the court. You may want
to make arrangements with the sheriff's office or a private process server
to serve the subpoena to the witness. (There is a fee for service of process.)
If the witness fails to appear, the court can hold the witness in contempt
and sentence the witness to fines and/or jail time.
What happens at a jury trial?
In a jury trial, six community members
are called to be the jury; they hear the evidence and decide if you are
The trial begins with jury selection.
About 25 potential jurors are summoned to court the morning of your trial.
The judge begins by asking the potential jurors questions to make sure
that none has previous knowledge of the parties, or any beliefs about
the issues in the case that might cause a juror to be biased for or against
either party. The prosecution, and then the defense, may also ask questions.
Each party may challenge a
potential juror. If either party believes a juror might be biased, the
party can challenge the juror for cause, and the judge decides
whether to excuse the juror. Each party also has four peremptory challenges.
A peremptory challenge allows a party to have a juror excused without
stating any reason. Jurors' names are drawn at random, and the first six
jurors who are not challenged and excused are the jury.
The court prepares jury instructions
that describe to the jury what is going to happen and what the jury is
to do. The court provides both parties with copies of the instructions
before they are given to the jury, and asks if either party has objections
to the instructions. The judge hears the objections and decides whether
to make any changes to the instructions while the jury is outside the
Both parties proceed with opening
statements, calling witnesses, and closing arguments, as described above
for a court trial.
If the jury finds the defendant guilty,
the judge determines the sentence.
What happens if I plead guilty or am found guilty?
If you plead guilty or are found guilty,
the judge must next determine the penalty (also called the sentence).
The court may decide the sentence at the time you plead guilty or are
found guilty, or may schedule sentencing for another day. (For example,
in domestic battery cases, the law requires the defendant to get an evaluation
from a court-approved anger management counselor prior to sentencing,
and in most drug or alcohol-related cases, the law requires the defendant
to get an evaluation from a court-approved drug and alcohol abuse counselor
At sentencing, the prosecution may
make a recommendation about the sentence. Your attorney may make a recommendation,
and you may make a statement on your own behalf. The judge decides the
sentence, and it is written in a document called a judgment.
You will be given a copy of the judgment.
In determining your sentence, the
court considers three factors: accountability (punishment), skill development
(to help avoid future offenses), and community protection. The judge imposes
a sentence that the court determines is appropriate to the defendant and
to the circumstances, in light of these three factors.
The sentence must be within minimum
or maximum limits set by statute. All misdemeanor offenses are punishable
by fines, court costs, community service, and/or probation (explained
further below). Some misdemeanor offenses are also punishable by jail
time and/or a driver's license suspension. (The judge will have told you
the minimum or maximum limits that apply in your case at your initial
appearance, as explained above.) If the offense resulted in injury
to another person, or damage to another person's property, you may be
required to make restitution (explained further below). If your
sentence includes fines, court costs, and/or restitution, the judgment
states the specific amount. If your sentence includes community service,
jail, probation, and/or a driver's license suspension, the judgment states
a specific period of time for each.
Fines Fines are due
at the time of sentencing, unless you make other arrangements. If you
are unable to pay the fines at sentencing, you can ask the court for a
later deadline. You can also ask for a monthly payment schedule. There
is a $2.00 fee for each monthly payment, to cover the cost of the extra
work for the court staff. You can also ask the court to allow you to do
community service instead of paying fines, which the court will approve
in some circumstances.
The judge sets a deadline to complete the community service hours, and
you are given instructions where to report to make arrangements. Community
service must be completed through a court-approved community service organization.
There is a 60-cent per hour fee for community service, which covers the
cost of workmen's compensation insurance. The community service organization
sends the court a written notice when you complete your community service.
is the amount a defendant must pay to the victim of the defendant's crime,
to cover the victim's costs for treatment for an injury, or to repair
or replace property damaged by the defendant.
Deadlines for Payment and
Community Service In addition to deadlines for fines, court costs,
restitution and community service, the judgment also includes a date and
time for a review hearing. If you do not meet the deadlines,
you must appear at the review hearing and show good cause why
the court should not hold you in contempt. If the judge decides
that you did not have good cause, the judge may require you to pay fines
and/or serve jail time for contempt. The court is more likely to find
good cause, and to allow an extension of the deadline, if you have paid
a significant portion of the amount due or have completed a significant
portion of the community service before the review hearing.
Jail Jail time begins
at sentencing and continues until the sentence is fully served, unless
you make other arrangements. You can ask the judge to allow you to begin
your jail term at a later time. In some counties, the judge will give
you specific date(s) and time(s) to report to jail. In other counties,
you will be told to go to the jail to make arrangements to do your jail
time. The extent to which your jail time will be scheduled around work
or other important commitments may depend on available jail space. Once
your jail time is scheduled, it will be rescheduled only upon proof of
compelling reasons, such as a medical emergency or a death in the family.
If you fail to report to jail at the scheduled times, a warrant will be
issued for your arrest.
If you have a job, you can ask the
judge to allow work release. You will be required to obtain a
letter from your employer stating the days and hours you work. You will
be released from jail in time to go to work and will be required to report
back to jail immediately after work. In most counties, there is a fee
for each day of work release, to cover the extra work for the jail staff.
Permission for work release can be lost if you fail to return immediately
after work, or if you violate jail rules (for example, by returning to
jail under the influence of alcohol or drugs).
In some counties, you can ask the
court to allow you to do work crew instead of jail time. You
will be told to go to the jail to make arrangements to work on the sheriff's
work crew. You will be required to report to the jail on specific days
and at specific times, and will spend the day working on community service
projects. The extent to which your work crew days will be scheduled around
work or other important commitments may depend on available work crew
space. Once your work crew time is scheduled, it will be rescheduled only
upon proof of compelling reasons, such as medical emergency or a death
in the family. Permission to do work crew will be lost if you fail to
appear when scheduled, or if you violate work crew rules (for example,
by arriving for work crew under the influence of alcohol or drugs.) If
you leave the work crew without the permission of the supervising deputy,
you can be charged with the crime of escape.
Probation The court
may place you on probation for a specific period of time. If you are placed
on probation, the court will suspend all or part of the fines
or jail time. You do not have to pay suspended fines or serve suspended
jail time if you comply with the conditions of probation.
Typical conditions that a court may
impose in misdemeanor cases include a requirement that the defendant:
not have any further misdemeanor or felony violations; complete anger
management or conflict resolution education or counseling (typical in
battery cases); have no contact with certain persons (typical in battery
or stalking cases); complete drug or alcohol education or treatment (typical
in drug or alcohol-related cases); submit to drug or alcohol testing (typical
in drug or alcohol-related cases); etc.
Probation may be either supervised
or unsupervised. Under supervised probation, the defendant must
regularly meet with a probation officer. In most counties, if you are
on supervised probation, you will be required to pay a monthly fee to
help cover the costs of supervision.
If you do not comply with the terms
of probation, the prosecutor may file a motion asking the court to find
that you have violated your probation. If the court finds you have violated
probation, it may order that you pay all or part of the suspended fines
or complete all or part of the suspended jail time. The court may also
change the terms of your probation to include anything the court could
have ordered at the original sentencing.
Driver's License Suspension
There are some offenses for which the statute provides that the court
will or may suspend the defendant's driver's license if the defendant
pleads guilty or is found guilty. In some instances, suspension begins
at sentencing; in some instances, the suspension begins when a current
period of suspension has passed.
If your sentence includes a driver's
license suspension, the court may require you to surrender your license
to the court at sentencing. You can ask the judge to wait a few days for
the suspension to begin, which the judge may allow under some circumstances.
The sentence may state that the suspension
is absolute. If your judgment does not say that the
suspension is absolute, you can apply at the court clerk's office for
permission to get a temporary restricted driver's permit that allows you
to drive for work, school, or family medical reasons. Do not drive until
you have the restricted permit in your possession; once you have the permit,
drive only during the times and for the purposes stated on the permit.
If the suspension is absolute, you cannot get a permit for the period
of time that the suspension is absolute.
There are other offenses for which
the statute provides that the Idaho Department of Transportation (IDOT)
will suspend the defendant's driver's license. For example, the IDOT may
suspend a person's driver's license when a person has lost all of their
"points" due to traffic infractions. For more information about
suspension of driver's licenses by the IDOT, you may call the IDOT or
your local department of motor vehicles.
What is an appeal?
In an appeal, the district court decides
whether the magistrate judge in your case followed all the proper procedures
and properly applied all the applicable laws. Either you or the prosecutor
may file an appeal within 42 days after the judgment is entered.
What happens if I don't show up when I am supposed
If you do not appear for your initial
appearance (the date and time on your citation, or the date and time on
the summons that was given to you with the complaint), you may be charged
with an additional offense, commonly known as failure to appear
(FTA). An FTA is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail
and/or a fine of up to $300, plus court costs. If you are charged with
an FTA, the court is likely to issue a warrant for your arrest.
If you fail to appear for proceedings
scheduled by the court after your initial appearance, the court is likely
to issue a warrant for your arrest. You will be required to show good
cause why the court should not hold you in contempt. If you are held in
contempt, you may be required to pay fines and/or to serve time in jail.
A failure to appear results in a great
deal of trouble both for the court and for the defendant. If you can't
appear at the scheduled time, contact your attorney or the court as soon
as possible. If you or your attorney contacts the court ahead of time
and if you have a good reason, the court may reschedule your case. If
you do not contact the court ahead of time, the court will require compelling
reasons before it excuses a failure to appear.
Do I need a lawyer?
You are not required to have a lawyer.
You may represent yourself if you wish. Another person who is not a lawyer
may not represent you in court.
Whether you want to represent yourself
or whether you want a lawyer to represent you is a decision only you can
make. Idaho courts have tried to make it easier for people who want to
represent themselves in court, particularly in misdemeanor cases, but
a non-lawyer who represents him or herself is expected to follow court
rules and procedures the same as a lawyer.
You may have more reason to want an
attorney in a jury trial than in a court trial, and you may have more
reason to want an attorney on appeal than at trial. Procedures are somewhat
more complicated in jury trials than in court trials. On appeal, the issue
is whether the trial court properly followed the law, so you need to be
prepared to learn and present the law that applies in your case. In addition,
on appeal there are some procedures which, if not strictly followed, will
result in dismissal of the appeal. Despite these factors, you may want
to represent yourself, and you have the right to do so.
If you want to represent yourself
in court, and want more information about the law that applies in your
case, you can consult with an attorney without hiring the attorney to
represent you in court. You can also get more information at courthouse
and public libraries. The citation or complaint states the section number
of the state statute or the county or city ordinance under which you are
charged. The procedures the court follows are set by rules adopted by
the Idaho Supreme Court. Both the state statutes and the supreme court
rules are set forth in the Idaho Code, which can be found at all courthouses
and in most public libraries in the state. Copies of county and city ordinances
can be found at local courthouses, local city or county offices, and/or
The court rules include certain requirements
as to the format of documents, such as motions, to be filed with the court.
Court clerks can provide some information as to the format of documents
to be filed with the court. The court clerks do not have standardized,
preprinted forms that can be completed and filed with the court in misdemeanor
cases, and cannot advise you as to the information to be included in your
Please remember that a misdemeanor
citation is a serious matter that is decided in a formal setting. You
should dress appropriately. You should be on time, and if you are represented
by a lawyer, you should be 15 minutes early so you can talk to your lawyer
before your hearing. Food or drink is not allowed in a courtroom. Children
should not be brought into a courtroom unless they are old enough to sit
quietly and not disrupt the proceedings. Cell phones and pagers should
be turned off while you are in the courtroom.
If you are represented by a lawyer,
listen to his or her advice, and ask questions so that you understand
what is happening and can make the best decisions for yourself. If you
are not represented by a lawyer, make the effort to become familiar with
the law and procedures involved in your case. The court cannot represent
you or advise you on what you should do.
Please be patient. There may be a
delay before your case is called, and there are a variety of reasons why
delays happen. It is often necessary to schedule several hearings for
the same time, to make the most efficient use of court time (and taxpayer
money). Sometimes, a hearing scheduled earlier in the day takes longer
than the court or the parties anticipated. Sometimes the court must deal
with urgent matters (such as emergency child protection hearings) which
take precedence over previously scheduled hearings.
Interpreters are available for participants
in court proceedings who cannot speak, hear, or understand the English
language. If an interpreter is needed in your case, contact the court
clerk's office prior to your first appearance in court.
It is illegal to bring weapons of
any kind into a courthouse. Cameras, tape recorders and video recorders
are not allowed in a courtroom without prior written approval of the judge.
Misdemeanor proceedings are open to
the public and recorded. In any misdemeanor case you can ask for a copy
or a transcript of the proceedings at the court clerk's office. There
is a fee for tapes and transcripts.