Want to know what happens when someone is arrested in Georgia on a serious criminal charge? Criminal Defense Attorney Page Pate explains the steps in a Georgia criminal case from start to finish. He explains what happens when someone is arrested, how they may be able to be released on bond, how formal charges are brought, the time it takes to get the case closed, and how to make the decision about going to trial or entering a plea.
What happens after you’ve been arrested in Georgia? I’ve been practicing criminal law in this state for over 25 years. And I’ve learned that there are basically five steps to a Georgia criminal case. The first step is getting a bond. Obviously, the first thing that someone wants to do when they’ve been arrested and taken to the jail is to get out of jail, to get a bond set so they can go home, go back to work, do whatever they want to do, pending a resolution of the case.
Fortunately, in Georgia, getting a bond is usually pretty easy. For most charges, the jail is already going to have a set bail amount for that offense. Say, you’re arrested for a theft charge or a drug possession charge, the bail for that case is usually already set at the jail. So, once you’ve been arrested and taken to jail, you just need to have a family member or a close friend contact the jail, find out what that bail amount is, and then get it set, posted, so you can be released.
For other crimes, the person is going to have to see a judge first. That’s usually gonna be a magistrate judge, who’s gonna come to the jail or to a courtroom adjacent to the jail, tell the person what they’re charged with, and consider a bond amount. The bond amount’s gonna be based on what the charge is, how serious it is, and the person’s criminal history.
If they have no criminal history, they’re usually gonna be able to get a reasonable bond. And then the process is the same, family member contacts the jail, finds out what the bond amount is, they get it posted, the person’s released. The exception is when it’s a serious crime in Georgia, like murder, rape, aggravated child molestation, kidnapping, drug trafficking. For certain crimes in Georgia, that magistrate judge at the jail, he can’t set a bond. He has no jurisdiction to do it.
So, the person is going to have to see a superior court judge, a higher level judge before a bond amount can be set. And a lawyer can help with that process because they can file a motion and get a hearing in front of a judge so that bond can be considered. Now, fortunately, in most cases, even serious cases, a bond is going to be granted so that the person can be released.
The second step in most Georgia criminal cases is going to court. After you’re out on bond, or even if you’ve been held without bond, you’re not going to deal with the case until you go back to court. And that first court appearance after being released on bond, that can take months because what’s happening is the DEA in that particular jurisdiction is coming up with the formal charge.
They can either file an accusation, which is a formal piece of paper telling the person what they’re charged with, or in some cases, they have to go to a grand jury and get an indictment, like a murder case. Whatever process they use, you’re not gonna go back to court until you’ve been formally charged. And you and your lawyer will get a notice in the mail saying, hey, it’s time to come back to court on this day, this courtroom, and you show up with a bunch of other people usually to enter your not guilty plea so that the case can start proceeding from there.
The third step, reviewing the evidence. And what happens after you’ve gone to court for the first time is that your lawyer and the prosecutor should start exchanging evidence. We call this the discovery process. The state needs to give your lawyer whatever they have in the case that they’re going to try to use to convict you. Could be witness statements, police reports, lab tests, maybe even expert testimony, whatever it is, the state has to give it to your lawyer who should review it carefully, discuss it with you, and then make a decision about how to respond.
Now, in this period of time, your lawyer needs to be doing his or her job too. Not just taking whatever the state gives them, but they’ve gotta do their own investigation. Go hire an investigator to talk to witnesses, consider independent experts to review lab tests or medical evidence. You cannot rely on just what the prosecutor gives you if you want to do a complete and thorough job of defending the case.
The next step, filing pretrial motions. This is a very important part of a Georgia criminal case. Way before trial, a good defense lawyer will consider filing motions that could end the case, could result in the case being dismissed. That can be a motion to suppress. Like, let’s say, the police searched your house, or your business, or even your car. A good defense lawyer will challenge that search by filing a motion to suppress. If you can win that motion, sometimes that will end the case.
There are other motions that can be filed, motions to dismiss in some situations, motions to limit the evidence or allow certain evidence to be introduced to trial. Either way, your lawyer needs to figure out the best motions for your case and get them filed early so that you can have a hearing and really fight the case before it’s time to go to trial.
The last stage is going to trial or entering a plea. The decision about going to trial is obviously a critical one. Does the state have sufficient evidence to convict you? Did you do what they say you did? In many cases, where there is a strong case that the state is able to prove somebody guilty, a good lawyer is gonna have extensive plea negotiations, try to limit the charges, maybe dismiss the more serious charges, get a cap on how much time the person may be facing in custody.
Whatever the negotiation is, a good lawyer is gonna start that process way before it’s time to go to trial. And if that lawyer has prepared the case, filed the right motions, done an independent investigation, you’re gonna get the best result possible. But going to trial is also an option. And it’s one that we take often because we found that most people who are charged in state court in Georgia have either been overcharged, they’ve been charged with stuff that they didn’t do, or completely falsely accused.
And obviously, those cases are not gonna be guilty pleas, we’re going to go to trial. And if your lawyer has done his or her job through this whole process, you’ll be ready to go to trial and you’ll get a good result. If you have any questions about these steps or if we can help you or someone in your family or a close friend with a Georgia criminal case, feel free to give me a call.
Page Pate is an accomplished trial lawyer with over 25 years of experience in criminal defense, civil litigation, and whistleblower representation. Page is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, Top 100 Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers, and named to the list of Super Lawyers for the past 15 consecutive years. Page is a frequent expert legal analyst for local and national media and has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia Law School. Read Page’s reviews on AVVO. Follow Page on Twitter @pagepate and on Linkedin.