What Happens in a Connecticut Criminal Court?
Whenever a person is arrested on a criminal charge or issued a summons, no matter what the crime, he will be presented in Court for Arraignment. The Superior Court of Connecticut has jurisdiction over almost all criminal matters in the state.
In Connecticut, each county has at least one “Part A” court and several “Part B” courts. If the crime charged is greater than a Class D felony (an offense where the maximum penalty is no greater than 5 years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine) the case will be transferred to the Part A court within the same county.
In essence, the most serious cases are handled in Part A courts, and the less serious cases are dealt with in Part B courts. Suffice it to say, the cases involving crimes that are categorized as a Class D felony or less are more numerous; therefore, there are more courts that hear those cases.
Arraignment / Bond
If you are arrested and held in custody then you will appear in court on the next business day. If you are issued a summons or criminal citation, then you must appear at court on the date and time indicated on the summons.
At the arraignment, the defendant is advised of several constitutional rights by the presiding judge and is required to enter a plea. If the defendant pleads “not guilty” then the matter is set for a date for the pre-trial conference.
At every arraignment, the Judge will set bond. If you do not have a record and the case is not violent in nature, then most likely you will be released on a written promise to appear on all subsequent court dates.
Other times, a judge will order a bond with or without surety. In that case, if you fail to appear then your bond would be revoked, and you would be held in custody without bond. In the instance where the judge requires a security bond, the defendant has the option of posting 10% of the bond with a licensed bondsman; the bondsman then assures the defendant's return to court, and the defendant is released.
If a defendant is held in custody after arraignment the judge must review the bond status after 45 days.
Next Steps – Your Legal Defense Begins
After the arraignment comes the pre-trial conference. At the pre-trial conference, you as the defendant, your attorney, and a prosecutor discuss the case.
This is the stage where most “plea bargains” are entered. In the event of a plea bargain, you enter a plea of “guilty” in exchange for a reduction of the charges and/or punishment.
If the parties are unable to come to an agreement then the case will be put on the “trial list,” and will be tried on the next available date.
Just because you don't agree to a deal at the pre-trial conference doesn't mean you can't still work out a plea deal at a later date. Sometimes it can make sense to push back a plea to see what happens, or if other evidence or facts present themselves that can help your case.
Are There Other Ways to Dispose of the Case Instead of Going to Trial?
Yes, there are ways of getting a case dismissed or “nolle pros'd.” After the pre-trial conference, but before trial, the defendant may file a motion to dismiss or a motion to suppress. If the court allows a motion to dismiss then the case will be completely disposed of. If the court allows a motion to suppress, then, depending on the strength of the remaining case, it could either continue or be dismissed.
A prosecutor may also “nolle” a case. In other words, the prosecutor will forego prosecution of the charged crimes. If a case is “nolle pross'd” and not re-opened within 13 months, the case is dismissed, and the record is erased.
What Happens If The Case Goes To Trial?
If the defendant elects to go to trial, you have the right to be tried by a judge or by a jury. A trial by judge is often referred to as a “bench trial” or a “court trial.” A trial by jury, as most are familiar, is called a “jury trial.”
In Connecticut, all non-Class A felonies and misdemeanors are tried to a jury of six people. For capital offenses and crimes that involve possible life sentences, the cases are tried to a jury of 12 people. In Connecticut, all verdicts must be unanimous.
If a defendant accused of a Class A felony chooses a bench trial, then the case will be tried to a 3-judge panel. Their verdict must also be unanimous.
If The Case is Dismissed or I am Acquitted, What Happens to the Record?
When a case is dismissed or the defendant is found “not guilty,” then all of the court records of the prosecution dealing with that case are automatically erased. Those records are not available to the public or the press.
This can be one of the best reasons to fight a case. A criminal record can be a serious problem for many people, especially since Connecticut lists all criminal convictions on an easily searchable public database.
Explanation of other Legal And Criminal Court Terms
Accelerated Rehabilitation – A diversionary program that avoids a conviction and a record in a plea deal.
Appeal – anyone convicted has the right to appeal the conviction.
Arraignment – the first court appearance of the defendant in which the defendant enters a plea, bond is set, and it is determined if the defendant is indigent.
Arrest by Complaint – Under §54-1h, you can be charged with a crime, but not taken into custody via “Arrest by complaint and summons for commission of misdemeanor“. If you are accused of a misdemeanor offense, the police officer has the discretion to issue you a written summons to appear in court.
Capital Offense – a crime, the penalty of which is death or life imprisonment
Cross-Examination – under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States every defendant has a “Right to Confront” the evidence being presented against him/her. Cross-examination is a means of exercising that right. Every witness that testifies for the state is subject to be cross-examined by the defendant, and vice versa. Cross-examination is the questioning of a witness that has been called by the other side.
Direct-Examination – the questioning of a witness called by that side. For example, the questioning of the arresting police officer by the state is direct examination.
Fine – a fine is a monetary penalty that requires the defendant to pay a specific amount of money to the court.
Grand Jury – a grand jury is a group of people, summonsed by the state, to convene and hear evidence. The grand jury hears evidence presented by the prosecution and determines whether enough was presented to charge a defendant with a certain crime. In Connecticut, only a grand jury can charge someone with a capital offense. A grand jury operates in secrecy and the proceedings are closed to the public. If the grand jury finds enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime, then it will issue an Indictment listing the charges. If the grand jury believes the defendant probably did not commit the crime, then it will issue a No True Bill and, in most situations, the case will be over. Witnesses testify before the Grand Jury, but a defendant has no right to be present.
Indictment – the list of certain charges issued against a defendant after a grand jury has found enough evidence to charge that defendant with that/those crime(s).
Plea Bargain – a plea bargain is a disposition of a complaint or indictment without a trial, in which the defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendere in return for an already agreed-upon sentence. The judge, however, has discretion regarding the plea. In other words, he or she does not have to accept it.
Probable Cause – the standard used to determine whether there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime.
Probation – a punishment, the means of which keep the defendant under the supervision of the state for a certain period of time. Probation may also have conditions attached to it, such as drug/alcohol counseling or anger management.
Trial – the proceeding at which a judge or a jury hears the evidence and determines whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty. A jury that cannot agree on a verdict is called a hung jury. If this happens then the state has the option of trying the case again in front of a different jury.