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The Georgia Felony Process

The Georgia state legislature devises Georgia criminal law. It is the elected body that determines definitions for crimes, sentencing, and the Georgia felony process.

If you are charged with committing a felony, the first thing you will want to do is contact a Georgia criminal lawyer to represent you throughout the criminal justice process. Furthermore, it will benefit you to learn about the Georgia felony process, so you can discuss your case with your lawyer.

Georgia Felony Basics

Crimes fall into two main categories: misdemeanors and felonies.

A misdemeanor is a lesser crime. It is usually a non-violent crime or a crime that results in little physical harm. Examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Public intoxication
  • Prostitution
  • Speeding
  • Trespassing
  • Vandalism

Misdemeanors are further divided by classes. A Class A misdemeanor, for example, is a more serious charge than a Class B or Class C misdemeanor.

Misdemeanors are usually punishable by no more than a year in jail, small fines, community service, or a combination of all three.

A felony, on the other hand, is a more serious crime. These crimes cause severe harm to either people or property. Examples of felonies include:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping
  • Arson
  • Burglary
  • Robbery

Like misdemeanors, felonies are subdivided as well. But rather than dividing felonies into classes, felonies are divided into degrees in Georgia. For example, first-degree murder is considered a more serious crime than second-degree murder.

Felonies are punishable by a year or more in prison and significant fines.

The Arrest

The first part of the Georgia felony process is the arrest.

The arrest begins with the search. In many cases, a police officer must obtain a warrant from a judge to conduct a search. To get a warrant, the officer must show that there is probable cause. Probable cause means that the officer has a good reason to believe that you are somehow tied to a crime.

Searches may be conducted without a warrant in certain circumstances. For example, if you are arrested, the police officer may search your person without a warrant. Also, if you consent to a search or there is something in plain view, the officer does not have to get a warrant.

If, after a search is conducted, the officer has probable cause to believe you have committed a crime, you will be placed under arrest. At this point in the Georgia felony process, your constitutional rights kick in. These rights include the right to remain silent, which means you do not have to answer any questions from investigators or police. You also have the right to contact an attorney.

The Arraignment

Within 72 hours of your arrest, you will go through arraignment. This is when the charges against you are read in open court and you have an opportunity to enter your plea.

There are several plea options available to you. Which you choose to use will be something you will want to discuss with your attorney. These pleas are:

  • Guilty plea: You are admitting to committing the crime.
  • Not guilty plea: You are not admitting to committing the crime.
  • No contest plea: You do not dispute the charges, but you do not admit guilt. This plea is usually used if you anticipate facing a civil lawsuit related to the crime.
  • Mute plea: You do not say anything, and the court enters a not guilty plea. This plea is used to avoid showing that you do not necessarily agree with how the Georgia felony process has been conducted thus far.

The Trial

If you do not admit guilt or if you fail to enter into a plea agreement with the prosecution, your case will continue on to trial. Under Georgia criminal law, the accused must make a speedy trial demand in order to have a speedy trial. Once this demand is made, the trial date will be set within two court terms.

All those accused of committing a felony in Georgia are allowed a jury trial. However, you may opt for a bench trial, which means your case will be heard in front of a judge only.

At the end of the trial, the jury or judge will make its decision on the matter of your guilt. If you are found guilty, the judge will soon thereafter issue a sentence. You will then have up to 30 days after the judgment to seek an appeal.