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Phases of a Criminal Case

Most people aren't prepared for the reality of facing a criminal charge.  The information below can help people charged with a crime to understand the basic outline of a criminal case.  While this page is dedicated to criminal charges in Johnson County, the information is generic enough to be useful for understanding any criminal case in Kansas.

I've spent my career helping clients discreetly defend criminal charges so that they can begin to move forward. If you've been charged with a crime, contact my office today for a free consultation and see how I can help you build a strong defense for your case.

What Happens at a First Appearance Hearing?

Formally known as an arraignment hearing, the first appearance hearing is governed by K.S.A. 22-3205.  Here, several things will happen.  The judge will inform each defendant of the charges he or she is facing by handing a copy of the complaint and offering to read it aloud.  The judge will ask the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty on those charges.  And, the judge will set the bond in the case by determining the type of bond, the amount of the bond, and the conditions of bond.

Common colloquy: “On behalf of the defendant, I acknowledge receipt of the complaint, waive reading of the complaint, and enter a plea of not guilty.”

 What is a Scheduling Conference?

Scheduling conferences will likely make up the majority of the appearances defendants make in court.  They ensure cases move appropriately through the criminal justice system by requiring the parties to provide the judge an update on the progress of the case.  The time between conferences is used to obtain discovery, negotiate pleas, and determine whether possible defenses to the charges exist.  Speedy trial issues may arise in scheduling conferences.  Kansas statutes require cases be promptly brought to trial.  As such, the time between scheduling conferences is commonly not counted against the speedy trial clock.

Common colloquy: “Your attorney is asking for a continuance in this matter.  Do you understand that the time will not be counted for speedy trial purposes?  Have you discussed this with your attorney?  Do you still want to continue this matter?”

 How Do I Sign Up for Diversion?

In Johnson County, applications for diversion must be filed within 90 days of the first appearance hearing.  A cash or money order fee of $25 or $50 must accompany the application.  Once filed, a diversion coordinator will set a diversion conference.  Conferences are held in the District Attorney's office.  Both the defendant and the defense attorney must attend the conference.  Additional details about the Johnson County diversion program can be found on the Johnson County District Attorney's Office website.

Why is My Case Set for a Pretrial Motions Hearing?

Properly researched and argued pretrial motions can greatly influence a criminal case.  Motions in Limine and Motions to Suppress Evidence are two of the more commonly filed pretrial motions, although the possibility for pretrial filings are nearly limitless.  The hearings themselves are fairly straight forward.  The party filing the motion will be required to call experts or others to testify to the Court.  The responding party may also call experts or others to testify – depending on the nature of the filing.  At the conclusion of the hearing the Judge will have the discretion to issue a ruling either at the hearing or by written order some time later.

 What is a Preliminary Hearing?

In Kansas, preliminary hearings are set only in felony cases.  For most, the preliminary hearing will be the first substantive hearing in their case – if it is held at all.  Preliminary hearings may be waived.  In fact, they often are as a result of plea bargaining. Here, the State will call witnesses and introduce evidence as it would in a trial.  Defense counsel will also have the opportunity to cross examine witnesses and present evidence. The judge, not a jury, will decide whether the evidence presented supports a finding of probable cause that the defendant committed the offense charged.  If so, the case will be permitted to continue to trial.

What Can I Expect at a Plea Hearing?

After an attorney has negotiated an acceptable plea offer, a defendant may enter a plea of guilty or no contest at a plea hearing.  Entering a plea of guilty or no contest will result in a conviction without a trial.  Defendants may only enter a plea of guilty if they actually committed the crime alleged.  Accordingly, the State will recite its version of the facts to support the conviction.  While there may be some errors in the recitation of facts, the recitation only needs to be substantially true to support the plea.

In felony cases, sentencing will be set at a later date so that a PSI and LSI-R can be completed.  In misdemeanor cases, sentencing can be done at the time of the plea. 

Warning: The district court judge is not a party to the plea bargain.  This means that the judge does not have to sentence according to the terms of the plea.

Common colloquy: “Your attorney informed us you wish to change your plea from not guilty to guilty.  Is that correct?

I have before me a copy of a plea agreement that appears to have been signed by the prosecutor, your defense attorney and you.  Did you sign this agreement?

Before I accept your plea of guilty, I have a few questions. 

What level of education have you completed?

Are you under the influence of any substances that alter your ability to make an informed decision?  For the record, you do not appear to be under the influence.

Have you had enough time to review the plea agreement and all other aspects of your case with your attorney?

Are you satisfied with the services of your attorney?

This plea is agreement between you and the prosecutor.  The sentencing judge will be under no obligation to follow the recommendations set forth in this agreement.

Have you been promised anything other than the terms of the plea agreement in exchange for entering a guilty plea?

Has anybody threatened you into taking this plea?

Are you entering this plea of guilty because you are actually guilty?

By entering this plea you waive trial rights such as the right to have a jury determine whether you are guilty, the right to call and cross examine witnesses, the right to testify on your own behalf.

By entering this plea, you limit your ability to raise issues on appeal.

Do you still wish to enter a plea of guilty or no contest?

What is a Pretrial Conference?

Usually a day or two before a jury or bench trial begins, the court will host a pretrial conference.  This is often the attorneys' last chance to make a motion to the court.  In jury trials, the attorneys will usually receive a copy of the jury pool for voir dire preparation.

How Do Trials Work in Kansas?

In Kansas, trials may be to a jury or to the judge in a bench trial.  During the trial the prosecutor will use his or her witnesses and evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime alleged.  In response, the defendant will also have an opportunity to tell his or her side of the story.

Trials are highly structured to ensure fairness to both parties.  The burden of proof is on the State so the prosecutor will be the first to address the venire panel, give opening statements, present evidence, and give closing argument.  Additionally, the prosecutor will be able to respond to defense counsel's closing argument.

In voir dire, the attorneys will question the potential jurors to determine who among them will reach a verdict without bias.  Jurors are asked to listen to the evidence and decide the facts of the case.  In felony cases, 12 jurors are selected while only 6 are selected in misdemeanor cases.

Opening statements permit the prosecutor and defense attorney to give the jury an overview of what they expect the evidence to show.  The statements can help the jury to understand what the case is about.

After opening statements, the prosecutor will begin presenting the case by examining witnesses.  The prosecutor will likely admit exhibits into evidence such as drugs confiscated from the defendant or weapons and other items taken from the scene of a crime.  The defense attorney can cross-examine any witness called by the State.

Once the State has presented all of its evidence in support of its case, the defense will be able to present its own evidence by calling witnesses.  Or, the defense may choose not to present any evidence.  Defendants will have the option of testifying or remaining silent during this phase of the trial. 

After the parties introduce all of their evidence, the prosecutor and defense attorney will give closing arguments.  Closing arguments are the last chance for the attorneys to address the jury before deliberation.

The jury will deliberate after receiving jury instructions from the judge.  The content of the instructions are debated in a short instruction conference outside of the presence of the jury.  Jury deliberations will last as long as necessary for the jury to reach a unanimous verdict.  The verdict will be read in open court will all parties present.

What Can I Expect at Sentencing?

After a finding of guilt by plea or by trial, a date for sentencing will be set by the Court about 60 days later.  Depending on the circumstances, defendants in misdemeanor cases may be sentenced on the same day as the plea or trial. 

Felony cases require sentencing hearings to be set at a later date so that a PSI and LSI-R can be completed.  In Johnson County, the PSI and LSI-R are scheduled in room 115a.  The documents will be used to determine the level of supervision, if probation is a sentencing option, and will be used to determine the defendant's criminal history score.