Charged with a Felony in DC - The Process
So you have been charged with a Felony in D.C. Superior Court. What happens next?
D.C. Superior Court operates very similar to the federal jurisdiction and the bail laws are very similar to the bail laws of the Federal Courts. There are a multitude of holds that can be place on an individual that comes through the criminal justice system with a felony.
In the District of Columbia, if you are arrested on a felony that is not a grand jury original you will see a Judge within 48 hours, most of the time within 24 hours. In DC this is called a presentment and you are charged by complaint. Your attorney will waive formal reading of the charges, and request a preliminary hearing. The Judge sitting in arraignment court also known as Courtroom C10 will determine whether you are held or released on personal recognizance. Whether you are held is based on a number of factors such as whether you are on probation, parole or have a pending case. If you are probation, parole or have a pending case you could be held for 5 days; and thereafter, you will have your preliminary hearing and/or detention hearing. If you are charged with a violent, dangerous crime, or failed to appear court often, you could be held for 3 days; and thereafter, have a preliminary hearing and/or detention hearing.
After arraignment, you will have your preliminary hearing usually before a Magistrate Judge in D.C superior Court. There are two issues at the preliminary hearing and/or detention hearing that will be paramount to you.
(1) Is there probable cause that you committed the crime;
(2) If there is probable cause should you be released?
At this juncture you will need an experienced attorney to properly vent all facts and your ties to the community for your release.
After the preliminary hearing the case will be bound over for the grand jury to determine whether probable cause that you committed the offense is.
The Fifth Amendment guarantees that no person shall be prosecuted for "a capital or otherwise infamous crime" unless indicted by a grand jury. Court rules and the D.C. Code require that a grand jury consider the evidence for any offense carrying a possible penalty in excess of one year. Thus, all felony cases must be presented to a grand jury unless the defendant waives the right to indictment. The grand jury may consist of sixteen to twenty-three members. Twelve or more jurors must concur in order to return an indictment.
If you are held after the detention hearing, the court will schedule a status hearing usually within 30 days to determine the posture of the case with the Grand Jury. Also at this time the Court may inquire whether plea negotiations are going on. Remember your lawyer has a duty to investigate, consult and prepare your case for you to make an informed decision of whether to plea or to go to trial. You have an absolute right to know whether a plea has been offered.
Trial by Jury
If you do not accept the government plea offer you will have a jury trial where twelve members of your community will decide beyond a reasonable doubt whether you committed the crime.
If you lose the trial, or plead guilty, you will have a sentencing hearing within 2 months. The reason it takes to months is because the Court conducts a pre-sentence investigation where a probation officer makes a recommendation to the court regarding what sentence you should received based on social and background information. Your lawyer at this time may submit character letters and other items showing your good character.
This has been a simplistic explanation of a felony through DC Superior Court but please be mindful that is a rough outline and you should seek an experienced attorney to guide you through this process.
Mark Rollins is attorney that practices criminal law in D.C. Superior Court. He is a partner at the law firm of Rollins and Chan. You can contact him at http://www.rollinsandchan.com