New Haven Court Process
Going to court to answer criminal charges can be a frightening ordeal that many people are completely unfamiliar with. You may be unaware of the processes involved, what you should say to the judge, or even where to go. At Billings & Barrett, our New Haven criminal defense lawyers will be there to guide you through everything, discuss all potential legal options with you, and provide the most robust defense possible no matter what charges you are facing.
Steps to Take Before Trial
The Connecticut Legislature has created a number of pre-trial diversionary programs that are designed to provide individuals with a second chance and prevent a criminal conviction. The purpose of these programs is rehabilitation. Although there are other programs, the most common are the Accelerated Rehabilitation Program (AR), Youthful Offender Program (YO), Family Violence Education Program (FVEP), Alcohol Education Program (AEP), Drug Education Program (DEP), and the Community Service Labor Program (CSLP).
In many cases, our initial defense is an attempt to get the charges nolled, or “dropped.” When this option is unattainable, diversionary programs are an excellent option. If you are successful in completing the program, the charges will be dismissed. A dismissal is the best possible outcome in a criminal case because your criminal record remains “clean.” On the other hand, if the program is not granted to you or you do not satisfy the requirements needed, oftentimes you will face a criminal, or even felony, record which may potentially yield to jail time.
If your New Haven criminal defense attorney is able to negotiate a plea bargain that is acceptable to you and the outcome involves a guilty plea, there are several ways to enter that guilty plea: a straight guilty plea, an Alford Plea, or a Nolo Contendere plea.
A straight guilty plea suggests that you find the allegations accurate and that you agree that you have committed a crime. An Alford Plea is a plea in which you admit legal guilt because you believe you would be convicted at trial and face a harsher penalty than that which is being offered, but disagree with all or some of the factual allegations made by the state.
The final way to enter a guilty plea is a Nolo Contendere plea, which many people know as pleading No Contest. In this situation, you are not contesting the charges or offering any defenses to the charges. The reason to use a Nolo Contendere plea is because it cannot be introduced as guilt in a civil action against the individual.
Going to Trial
After your case has been placed on the Trial List, your attorney will be able to file various motions. These motions are basically requests to the court that raise various legal issues. Typically, these motions seek to prevent the state from introducing certain evidence or statements that could be damaging to you and your case.
In addition, your attorney should file discovery motions that seek specific information from the state’s attorney. For example, there may be a video of the alleged conduct that you would want to obtain. For most motions, the court will have both the written motions, as well as oral argument on those motions before making a ruling.
You have the right to have your case tried before a jury or electing to have a Court Trial. This decision is your decision alone. In either situation, the state has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. Your attorney should advise you in regard to the differences with each option, as well as the positives and negatives of both. In most cases, people choose to present the case to a jury.
If you choose a jury trial, the Connecticut Constitution affords you the right to question the potential jurors. This process is called voir dire. During this process, your attorney will to determine the best and worst jurors for your case.
Unique Aspects of Court in Connecticut
Often people are surprised to learn that in Connecticut, unlike on television, you do not provide the court and jury with opening statements. Trial begins by the state calling its first witness. The state will question its witnesses and enter various pieces of information into evidence. As the state finishes asking its questions to each witness, your defense attorney will also be able to ask questions. This is known as cross-examination.
Once the state calls all of its witnesses, the state will rest and the defense is given the opportunity to present its own defense. However, the burden is on the state, therefore, the defense does not have to present any defense at all if the state has not met its burden. Once the defense is finished, the case will proceed to closing arguments.
The case will then be turned over to the jury. They will decide whether you are guilty or not guilty. If you are found not guilty, the charges are dropped, the case is over, and you walk out the door freely. If you are found guilty, the case will continue onto the sentencing process. This can occur the same day or several weeks later depending on the charges, judge, and whether the court requests a pre-sentencing investigation (this is when probation does an investigation and recommends a sentence.)
Appealing a Court Verdict
If you have been convicted, you have the right to appeal. Usually, this is considered a separate matter from your trial and often will require an additional fee. The purpose of an appeal is to challenge any potential legal issues that arose during the trial. The appeals process involves researching all potential legal issues, drafting lengthy briefs and arguing the case before the Connecticut Appellate or Supreme Court. Following the argument, the court will release a written decision.
If you lose the appeal, there may be other potential avenues to continue the appeal and continue an effort to drop your charges or reduce your sentence. If the other paths are unavailable or prove to be unsuccessful, the case is over and your conviction is upheld. If you are successful on appeal, the outcome can range from a complete dismissal to a new trial.