Summary- The non complex system is a 9 week cycle that begins at the defendant’s arrest and ends with a plea, trial, or dismissal by the state or court. Non Complex hears approximately 70% of the felony cases in Fulton County and includes all thefts less than $100,000, all drugs except trafficking, burglaries and most other non violent felony offenses.
How it works:
1. First Appearance – occurs within 24 hours of the defendant’s arrest. Court held by a part time (currently randomly scheduled judges in the Fulton County Jail) magistrate who assigns and attorney, determines if there is probable cause and sets a bond.
- Cases can only be disposed of by dismissal by the state or judge. The State dismisses the case if we have reviewed the facts and determine there is not probable cause to proceed. The judge will dismiss the case if they disagree with the state’s finding of probable cause (indicated by the fact the state has charged the case). Also the judge can dismiss the case if we have not had the officer swear to the facts of the case via a warrant or a signed sworn statement.
- Bond is determined by the judge, usually after receiving a recommendation from the defense attorney and the state. There are certain types of cases where the magistrate does not have the authority to set a bond (aggravated assaults, murder, armed robbery etc.) This rule was created and enforced by an order issued by a chief judge.
2. All Purpose/Preliminary Hearing – occurs 2 weeks after the defendant’s arrest. Court held by appointed full time magistrate judge (currently Judge Karen Woodson in Courtroom 8C). At this date defendants can request a bond, have their case charged (accused), request the state establish probable cause by presenting witness testimony, or have their case disposed by entering a guilty plea, signing up for a diversion program, receiving a dismissal, nolle pros, not presenting to grand jury.
- Cases are disposed of by plea or dismissal by the court. Because this date is so early in the process there is usually very little information beyond the circumstances that led to the arrest, therefore there are rarely pleas taken on this date. In some cases the facts are so clear or the seriousness of the case makes it easy for a plea offer to be given or an offer for a diversion program.
- A defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing if they are still in jail two weeks after their arrest. The preliminary hearing determines if there is probable cause to continue to hold the defendant in jail. Cases can be dismissed if the officer does not show up to the preliminary hearing or if the judge has heard the testimony of the officer and other witnesses and determines there is not probable cause. The court has the discretion to reset a case up to 90 days before probable cause must be established by the Grand Jury.
- Bonds can be discussed at this court date if the defendant has filed a bond motion in advance. The judge must determine if the defendant has a likelihood of returning to court if released on bond, likelihood of intimidating witnesses, likelihood of tampering with evidence, or likelihood to commit other offenses while out on bond.
3. Plea & Arraignment (Jail)- occurs approximately 2 weeks after the Preliminary Hearing date. Only defendants still in jail at this time have a P&A hearing at the jail. Court held by appointed magistrate judge (currently Judge Walter Lovett at Fulton County Jail). At this date the defendant must enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. In rare instances bond is argued at this court date.
- Cases are most often disposed of via plea on this date. If the defendant pleas not guilty his case is scheduled for trial. If the defendant enters a guilty plea he is admitting guilt to the facts given by the state. After the plea the defendant is sentenced and his case is complete.
- There are two types of pleas, negotiated and non negotiated:
- In a negotiated plea the state and defense attorney have come to an agreement as to a sentence for the defendant. The defendant’s guilty plea, Boykin rights (right to a trial etc.), and factual basis of the plea are put on the record . The sentence is entered on the record and the case is closed.
- In a non negotiated plea the defendant is entering a guilty plea but could not come to an agreed sentence with the State. While on the record, the state and the defendant’s attorney discuss the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. Both parties make a sentence recommendation to the judge. The judge enters the final sentence. In some courtrooms, the defendant can reject the court’s sentence within five minutes. If he does he changes his plea from guilty to not guilty and elects to go to trial.
4. Plea & Arraignment (Bond)- occurs approximately 3 weeks after the Preliminary Hearing. This date is scheduled for defendants who are out of jail and currently on bond. Court is held by an appointed magistrate judge (currently Judge Walter Lovett in courtroom 1C). This date is the same as the jail P & A with the exception that the defendant was released on a signature bond (no money required) or they could afford to pay a bond and be released from jail.
5. Pre-Trial Conference- occurs 1 to 2 weeks after Plea and Arraignment. Court is held by an appointed magistrate (currently Judge Richard Hicks in courtroom 4C). This date is similar to Plea and Arraignment except the state and defendant must announce if they are ready to start a trial the next week.
- Defendant’s can enter guilty pleas on this date that are either negotiated or non negotiated plea. This is the last time the defendant can enter a non negotiated plea and withdraw it if he does not like the sentence imposed by the judge.
6. Trial – There are two weeks scheduled to have a trial on any cases that have not pled by the pretrial conference. The Trial calendar begins the Monday after the Pre-Trial Conference calendar. Trial dates can be scheduled any day within the two week schedule. A trial that is not complete by the end of the two weeks is further noticed to a future calendar or a Catch-All calendar. A case on a catch-all calendar begins the rotation from First Appearance.
- A trial typically includes: Motions, Jury Selection/Voir Dire, Opening Statements, Presentation of Evidence, Closing Arguments.