OVERVIEW OF THE MISDEMEANOR CASE
This section is to give people a quick overview of how the misdemeanor court system works. The next section of this web page includes frequently asked questions about how the prosecuting attorney's office handles misdemeanor cases.
All misdemeanors begin with the issuance of a uniform citation to the defendant. The uniform citation is both a formal criminal complaint and a summons. On the citation, the defendant is given a date to appear in court.
The defendant's first appearance in the case is called an arraignment. During the hearing, the defendant is informed of the charge or charges filed against them, the maximum possible penalties that the court could impose if the defendant pleads or is found guilty, and the defendant's constitutional rights. The court will also ask the defendant if they intend to hire their own attorney of if they need to have an attorney appointed to represent them. If a defendant does not have sufficient income to afford to hire an attorney, i.e., the defendant is indigent, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the defendant. In cases where the defendant has been arrested, the court also discusses any bond that has already been set by the court or requested by the prosecution. If the defendant pleads guilty at the arraignment, the defendant can be sentenced at that time or at a later date. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the court will set the next hearing for the defendant to attend. That hearing is called a pretrial conference.
The purpose of a pretrial conference is to bring the parties together to determine if they can reach a satisfactory resolution to the case. This is commonly known as plea bargaining. Such conferences, with a few exceptions, are held on Thursday afternoons. If the prosecution and the defendant reach an agreement, the defendant may be sentenced at the time of the pretrial conference or at a later date. Certain cases, such as domestic battery and driving under the influence charges, require the defendant to obtain an evaluation prior to sentencing. In such cases, sentencing will be held at some date after the pretrial conference. If no resolution can be reached by the parties, the court will either set a date for another pretrial conference or schedule the matter for trial. In the event that the matter is set for a jury trial, the court will also set a second pretrial conference. The purpose of this second pretrial conference is to allow the parties another opportunity to resolve the case and to discuss procedural matters involved in the trial, such as what instructions to give to the jury.
Trials are either "jury trials" or "court trials." A jury in a misdemeanor case consists of 6 jurors. In some cases, the parties may agree to have the case decided by a judge, rather than a jury. This is usually done because of the cost and time associated with conducting a jury trial - court trials being quicker and less expensive. Both the defendant and the prosecution have a constitutional right to a jury trial. Therefore, both parties must agree to waive a jury before the case can be heard as a court trial. Most misdemeanor jury trials last one day and are usually held on Fridays. Most misdemeanor court trials last from half an hour to a half day and are held on Wednesdays.
A sentencing hearing is the last regular hearing held before the court. Victims have a right to address the court at these hearings. The prosecution argues to the court what an appropriate sentence ought to be, as does the defendant. The prosecution and the defendant can call witnesses and introduce evidence to support their position about the appropriate sentence. The court will address the issue of jail time and fine. When applicable, the court will also discuss the suspension of the defendant's driver's license and the restitution the defendant must pay to the victim.
In certain cases the court can place the defendant on probation. Probation is supervised by the court or, more commonly, by the Bingham County Probation Department. Probation means that the court suspends the requirement that the defendant serve the sentence that was given, but is required to do certain things in exchange for suspending the sentence. These things can include counseling, community service, random urinalysis, and restrictions on associating with certain people or going to certain businesses or locations.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What If A Defendant Wants To Reschedule A Hearing?
The prosecutor's office does not have the power to reschedule a hearing. Only the court can grant a continuance of a hearing. The court cannot do this until the defendant makes a formal written request as discussed below.
A defendant who wants or needs to reschedule a hearing needs to make a formal request to the court and provide a copy of that request to the prosecutor's office. This request needs to be made in writing and be in the format required by the Idaho Court Rules. To read the rule setting out the format requirements, click on this link to Idaho Criminal Rule 12. The prosecutor's office does not prepare or file a request with the court on behalf of the defendant. This is solely the defendant's responsibility.
If a defendant contacts the prosecutor's office about continuing a hearing, the prosecutor's office will listen to the reason the continuance is being requested and give an opinion on whether the prosecution will object to or agree to continue the hearing to another day. If the prosecutor states that the prosecution does not object to rescheduling the hearing, that statement does not guarantee the hearing will be continued and is not a substitute for making a written request to the court and receiving an order from the court continuing the hearing.
People often contact the clerk's office to request to reschedule a hearing. The common practice of the court clerks in this situation is to refer the people to the prosecutor's office. As indicated above, the prosecution does not have the authority to continue a hearing. All the office staff can provide is some direction to the defendant as to whether the prosecution will agree to or object to the request to reschedule the hearing.
A form for requesting that a hearing be rescheduled and information on such a request can be accessed by clicking on this Motion To Reschedule link. A request to reschedule a hearing will need to be scheduled for a hearing in front of the presiding judge. A form for notifying the court and the prosecutor's office of the time scheduled for the court to address the request to reschedule the hearing, along with information on such notices, can be accessed by clicking on this link for a Notice of Hearing link. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and work with these forms. You can obtain Adobe Acrobat Reader by clicking on the this Adobe icon.
What If A Defendant Wants To Discuss The Case Before Their First Court Appearance Or The Pretrial Conference?
Many defendants will contact the prosecutor's office immediately after they receive a ticket or after their first court appearance to try to discuss the case with the prosecutor. This is normally done in an attempt to avoid having to appearing in court. In nearly all cases, practical considerations keep the prosecution from resolving a case before a pretrial conference. These practical considerations begin with the fact that the prosecutor's office cannot make an appropriate decision on what to do with a case until all the information about the case has been gathered. This usually takes until the week of the pretrial conference to complete.
Two common misconception defendants have is that the prosecuting attorney's office knows immediately when a citation has been issued and has access to the information about the incident the day after the citation is issued. Law enforcement agencies do not automatically provide a copy of a citation or a police report to the prosecuting attorney's office. The prosecuting attorney's office will not become aware that a citation has been issued until the court provides notice to the prosecutor's office of a pretrial conference. This notice does not arrive until after the defendant's first appearance in court. Therefore, under normal circumstances, the process of gathering information about a misdemeanor case does not even begin for the prosecutor's office until after the defendant has made their first appearance in court and pled not guilty to the offense. Without any information, the prosecutor handling the case is not in a position to have a meaningful discussion with the defendant about the case.
Another consideration that makes it difficult for prosecutors to talk to defendants in advance of the pretrial conferences is that the prosecutor and secretary handling the misdemeanor case load have anywhere from 30 to 40 cases per week set for a pretrial conference. Combined with other work assignments, it is not realistic to expect that the prosecutor and the secretary assigned to the case have the time available to obtain information about a case outside of the normal protocol for gathering the information.
Although exceptions are made for certain types of emergencies, defendants seeking to discuss their case before their pretrial conference will normally be told that they will need to wait until their scheduled pretrial conference to talk to the prosecutor. As indicated above, this is because the prosecutor is without the information necessary to make an informed decision until immediately before the pretrial conference and because of how disruptive it is to the office's work routine to accommodate such requests.
What If A Defendant Wants To Appear At Court Before The Date On The Citation?
Defendant's should contact the clerk's office about their citation before coming to the courthouse to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to a citation. Sometimes it can be a matter of a few days to as long as a couple of weeks before the citation arrives at court from the officer. Therefore, if the defendant comes to the courthouse they run the risk that there will be no citation on file yet and the clerk will have no case to process the plea under. The clerk will not take any action in such situation, but will likely inform the defendant to check back later.
Why Won't The Prosecutor Talk Directly With A Defendant Who Is Represented By An Attorney?
The Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit an attorney from discussing a case with a party who is represented by an attorney. It is an ethical violation which can result in sanctions, even revocation of the prosecutor's license to practice law, if the prosecutor discusses the case with a defendant who he knows to be represented by an attorney. The defendant's attorney can give consent for the prosecution to talk to the defendant without the defense attorney present. This occurs in very rare circumstances. The prosecuting attorney will usually decline to talk to the defendant in such a situation unless the defense attorney's consent is in writing.
What If A Defendant Cannot Get Their Attorney To Discuss The Case With Them?
Defendants will occasionally call the prosecutor's office to discuss the case because they are not satisfied with the amount or quality of the conversations they are having with their attorney. As indicated in the previous section, the prosecutor cannot discuss the case with a defendant who is represented by counsel.
It is suggested that if the issue is one of the lawyer not returning phone calls, that the defendant write a letter to the attorney about what it is the defendant needs to know. This provides proof of the contact with the defense attorney and may allow the attorney to ask a member of their staff to address the concern because the attorney's schedule prevents them from responding in a timely fashion.
If writing a letter to the attorney does not work, it is suggested that the defendant write a letter to the judge explaining the communication problem with the attorney. Defendant's should not discuss specific items in the case, strategy items, or make any incriminating remarks. Any statements the defendant makes to the judge must be disclosed to the prosecution and can by used against the defendant during any part of the case.
As a client, a defendant can also report the lawyer to the Idaho State Bar if they believe one of the rules of professional conduct has been violated. This will trigger an investigation into the incident by the Idaho State Bar's ethics attorney. It is suggested that a defendant be assured that the attorney does not have a reasonable and valid explanation for the lack of communication before making such a referral.
Will A Conviction Affect A Defendant's Driver's License?
A defendant should read the criminal statute they have been cited with, and associated statutes, to determine if the court is allowed or required to suspend their driver's license. Idaho's criminal statutes can be researched by clicking on the following link to
If a person is concerned about points being assessed against their driving record, they can can look up the points schedule by clicking on this link to the Idaho Transportation Department web site.
What If The Defendant Actually Had Insurance, But Did Not Have Proof Of It To Show The Officer?
Sometimes the defendant has proof of insurance, but cannot locate it to show the officer. In such circumstances the law allows the defendant to present proof of the insurance to the clerk office, who then is authorized to dismiss the citation. The defendant must show proof that the car was insured at the time the citation was issued. The fact that insurance was obtained after the citation is not grounds for having the citation dismissed. However, the prosecutor's office usually will take this into consideration during the pretrial conference, but only if the defendant can provide proof that the car was insured in a timely fashion after the issuance of the citation.
What If The Defendant Had A Driver's License, But Did Not Have Proof Of It To Show The Officer?
Sometimes the defendant has a driver's license, but cannot locate it to show the officer. In such circumstances the law allows the defendant to present their driver's license to the clerk's office, who then is authorized to dismiss the charge. The defendant must show a valid driver's license covering the period of time during which the citation was issued. The fact that a new driver's license was obtained after the citation is not grounds for having the citation dismissed. However, the prosecutor's office usually will take this into consideration during the pretrial conference, but only if the defendant provides the new driver's license at the hearing.
How Does Someone Get A Restricted Driver's Permit?
The prosecutor's office is not involved in the issuance of restricted driver's permits. If someone's license has been suspended by the court, they need to contact the court to apply for a restricted driving permit. If the person has been suspended by the the Idaho Department of Transportation, the person needs to contact ITD to find out what can be done about driving privileges.
What If I Am A Victim Of The Offense?
If you are a victim of an offense you have certain rights. To learn more about victim-related issues, please review the victim information provided on this web site by clicking this link to our Victim Services web page.
The county prosecuting attorney has jurisdiction to prosecute all misdemeanor citations which are issued by state and county officials. Misdemeanors citations issued by city officers are prosecuted by the corresponding city prosecutor.
MISDEMEANOR CRIMINAL STATUTES
Misdemeanor criminal statutes are found throughout the Idaho Code. They are primarily found in Title 18 (general criminal laws), Title 37, Chapter 27 (drug laws), and Title 49(traffic). You can search for Idaho criminal statutes at the State of Idaho's Statutes and Constitution web site.
County ordinances can also make violations misdemeanors. You can research Bingham County ordinances at theBingham County Ordinances web page.
STATUTORY CRIMINAL PROCEDURES
Criminal procedures for misdemeanors are the same as for felonies and are located primarily in Title 19 of the Idaho Code. You can search for Idaho criminal procedural statutes and constitutional provisions at the State of Idaho's Statutes and Constitution web site.
Court rules governing misdemeanor proceedings are adopted by the Idaho Supreme Court and are located in Idaho Misdemeanor Rules. The Seventh Judicial District has its own set of local rules that must be followed in addition to the Supreme Court's rules. These are available by contacting the Trial Court Administrator's Office or the
Idaho Supreme Court.
The prosecutor's office works in conjunction with the following agencies in the discharge of their responsibilities:
Bingham County Adult Probation Department