The Initial Appearance is your first step in the criminal justice system. Initial Hearings are held in Magistrate Court. At this appearance you will be:
- Informed of your charges
- Advised of your next court date and court location
- The Court will enter a “Not Guilty” plea on your behalf
- The Court will ensure that you have an attorney representing you on your case.
- If the Court determines that you cannot afford to hire an attorney, a Public Defender will be appointed to assist you and you will receive instructions on how to contact your assigned attorney.
- The next court date is a Formal Appearance.
Many cases in Lake County are set for a Formal Appearance hearing. The Formal Appearance hearing is a court hearing before the Judge. You usually will meet the lawyer assigned to your case for the first time during this proceeding.
Under the law you are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
A plea agreement is an agreement you enter into with the State, with the acknowledgement and assistance of your attorney. Typically, plea agreements offered by the prosecutor will give you a better sentence than if you went to trial and lost. The decision to plead guilty is entirely up to you. By pleading guilty you give up several rights, including your right to trial. It is important to review the entire plea agreement with your attorney and to make sure that you understand the consequences of entering into the agreement before you sign it and before you enter it in court. If you have any questions about the plea agreement, be sure to discuss them with your attorney.
The Judge in your case will question your understanding of the legal rights you are waiving. The rights you are ‘giving up’ are:
- The right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury in the county in which each offense is alleged to have been committed;
- The right for the Defendant to be heard by themselves and counsel;
- The right to demand the nature and cause of the accusation against them and to have a copy thereof;
- The right to confront and cross-examine all witnesses against them at time of trial;
- The right to use the power and process of the Court to compel the production of any evidence including attendance of any witnesses in their favor at trial;
- The right to require the State to prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial at which the Defendant may not be compelled to testify against themselves;
- The right to assistance of counsel at every stage of the proceedings, including upon an appeal if need be;
- The right not to testify without prejudice; and
- That in the event that the Defendant should be found guilty of the charge now pending, he has the right to appeal that conviction on such charge to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Please note: Even though you sign a plea agreement with the prosecutor, the judge is not required to accept the terms of the agreement.
The Court may set a number of Omnibus Hearings before your case proceeds to trial. The settings may include: Status Hearings, Pretrial Conference (PTC), and hearings on motions filed by the attorneys.
A trial is a court proceeding where the prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime charged. Your attorney will have an opportunity to cross examine the prosecutor’s witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence to tell your story. Felony trials are heard by a jury unless you, your attorney, and the prosecutor agree to have your case presented to a judge (Bench Trial).
If you enter into a plea agreement or if you are found guilty after trial, you will be scheduled for sentencing approximately one month later. Before the sentencing date, you will meet with a probation officer who will prepare a report for the judge. The report will include a recommendation for your sentence. You should discuss this process with your attorney before you meet with the probation officer. In addition, provide your attorney with letters of support, personal references and other information that could motivate the judge to look more favorably upon you at your sentencing.
At sentencing, your attorney will have the opportunity to speak on your behalf. You also will have the chance to speak to the judge. If you want anyone else to speak on your behalf at sentencing, let your attorney know in advance of the hearing. Those who cannot attend sentencing can submit a letter on your behalf. The letters may be addressed to the sentencing judge, but should be sent to your attorney so the attorney can review them and submit them to the Court on your behalf.
If you are convicted after a trial or the Judge had the ability to use discretion in your sentence following a plea agreement and you wish to appeal your case, you will have the right to file an appeal. If this was a trial, discuss this with your attorney prior to sentencing. If it was a plea agreement, discuss an appeal with your attorney immediately after the sentencing. If you wish to appeal, your attorney will arrange to have a notice of appeal filed within 20 days after you are sentenced.