FREE Case Review (866) 588-0600

Do Misdemeanor Cases Go To Trial? Know Your Options

Misdemeanor cases can go to trial in certain circumstances. Whether a misdemeanor case proceeds to trial depends on various factors, including the specifics of the case, the defendant’s plea, and the decisions made by the prosecution and defense.
Awards & recognition
C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

What is a Misdemeanor?

According to Forbes, a misdemeanor is a type of criminal offense that is less severe than a felony [1]. The definition of a misdemeanor can vary by state, but generally, it refers to crimes that carry a maximum penalty of a year or less in prison.

However, some states may impose longer jail terms for certain misdemeanors. The statute defining a specific type of misconduct determines whether it is classified as a misdemeanor.

In some states, crimes with a maximum penalty of six months or less are considered petty offenses. Additionally, many states categorize misdemeanors into different classes or categories, such as:

  • Class A Misdemeanors: Punishable by up to one year of imprisonment.
  • Class B Misdemeanors: Punishable by up to six months of imprisonment.
  • Class C Misdemeanors: Punishable by up to 30 days of imprisonment.

In contrast to misdemeanors, conviction for a felony offense usually results in penalties that include more than a year of incarceration – Forbes

Can Misdemeanors Go To Trial?

According to SCLG, misdemeanor cases can indeed go to trial, which occurs when a defendant pleads not guilty to the charged offense and chooses to proceed to a jury trial [2].

Note that in the United States, parties have a constitutional right to a jury trial if they are charged with an offense that is punishable by custody in jail for six months or more.

However, not all cases must go to trial. A defendant can avoid trial by:

  • Pleading guilty or no contest to the misdemeanor charge,
  • Accepting a plea bargain that moves the case to the sentencing phase,
  • Convincing the judge or prosecutor to drop or dismiss the case entirely.

If a misdemeanor case goes to trial, the process involves several steps:

  • Jury selection
  • Opening statements
  • Presentation of evidence (prosecution and defense cases, including witness examination and cross-examination)
  • Closing arguments
  • Jury deliberations
  • Verdict
  • Sentencing, if necessary

During a trial, the defendant is entitled to several rights under the United States Constitution and state constitutions, including:

  • The right to be represented by an attorney, including a court-appointed public defender if the defendant cannot afford a private attorney.
  • The right against self-incrimination, meaning the defendant can refuse to answer questions or testify against themselves.
  • The right to a speedy trial.
  • The right to produce and confront witnesses.

Evidentiary Motions in Misdemeanor Trials

If a misdemeanor case goes to trial, the defense can raise various evidentiary motions, such as:

  • Standard objections to evidence or testimony.
  • Motions to exclude evidence, including newly discovered evidence or coerced confessions.
  • Motions to exclude witnesses from the courtroom.
  • Motions to discharge jurors for reasons such as misconduct, illness, inattentiveness, or emotional reactions.
  • Challenges to expert testimony, arguing that the expert is testifying beyond their expertise or that the testimony could mislead the jury.
  • Motion for acquittal, based on the argument that the prosecution has not met its burden of proof on one or more elements of the crime charged.

Understanding these aspects of the misdemeanor trial process helps ensure that defendants are aware of their rights and the steps involved in their defense.

Misdemeanor Court Process

When someone faces a misdemeanor charge, the process typically begins with either a citation or an arrest for crimes like DUI or drug possession. If arrested, the individual can post bail, usually with the help of a bail bondsman, unless they can afford the full cash bail themselves.

The Initial Court Date
The first court appearance, often for the arraignment or complaint filing, informs the defendant whether the district attorney will file charges and what those charges will be.

The First Hearing
At the initial court date, the district attorney might inform the defendant that they are still investigating the case and request a return in 30 to 60 days, a common scenario in domestic violence cases. Alternatively, the DA may decide not to file charges, or they may proceed with charges similar to the original citation or arrest.

During this first appearance, the judge will ask if the defendant intends to represent themselves, hire a private attorney, or needs a public defender.

After the First Hearing
Once legal representation is clarified, the arraignment advises the defendant of the charges and their constitutional rights. The defendant may enter a plea of not guilty or defer their plea.

Typically, after a misdemeanor complaint is filed, the defense attorney receives a copy of the police report and requests a few weeks for a settlement conference. This period allows the attorney and defendant to review the report, gather additional evidence, and conduct their own investigation.

The Settlement Conference
The settlement conference, the next court date after the arraignment, is where the district attorney and defense attorney discuss potential resolutions. The district attorney usually makes an offer to resolve the case, which the defendant can accept, counter, or reject, moving toward trial.

Multiple settlement conferences may occur before resolving a case. Either side might request more time to prepare or discuss the case, or they may decide to set a trial date if no resolution is reached.

Preparing for Trial
If a trial is necessary, the case will be scheduled for a trial by judge or jury, with a jury trial often being preferable. The judge will set a trial date and a readiness conference shortly before the trial to determine any last-minute resolutions or necessary delays.

This structured process ensures that all parties have the opportunity to prepare and seek a fair resolution or proceed to trial if needed.

Related Articles:

See all personal injury and accident lawsuits our lawyers have covered so far.

Get a Free Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Lawyers

The Litigation Group at Schmidt & Clark, LLP is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focuses on the representation of plaintiffs in lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and are currently accepting new legal challenges in all 50 states.

If you or a loved one was involved with these matters, you should contact our law firm immediately for a free case evaluation. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a suit and we can help.


Free Confidential Case Evaluation

Verified 100% Secure SiteTo contact us for a free review of your potential case, please fill out the form below or call us toll free 24 hrs/day by dialing: (866) 588-0600.