Information on the criminal court process for offenders arrested in White County Georgia and booked into the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center. From the arrest to the sentencing and everything in between.
Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center Criminal Court Process
It might be helpful to define some words that will be used on this site, when explaining the Georgia Court System and how it works. The definitions on this site are for general information and not legal advice. It is always preferred to follow information given by your attorney or local authorities.
If you scroll down below this content, and the listing of the courts in White County, you will find a simple flowchart diagram and a video that will help you visualize the stages of the Criminal Court Process.
Arrest is when Georgia, White County, and local police take a person into custody and start the legal process. The arrested person may or may not be immediately jailed.
In less serious crimes, the person may only be given a citation ordering that they appear in municipal or White County court on a certain date. In cases involving more serious crimes, the person is usually placed in the county jail until an arraignment, or a judge decides the next step.
Booking is when the White Countysheriff or local police gather information such as the detainee’s name, address and why the person is being arrested. Booking also includes fingerprinting, criminal history, investigation and verification of identity.
The prosecution, sometimes called “the government” or “the people” or “the state” is the side that press the charges and seeks punishment for the offense. These are attorneys that work for the state of Georgia, White County or a city or town. The prosecuting attorney for the county or the district is called the District Attorney or Solicitor. A U.S. Attorney prosecutes federal cases.
Jurisdiction is an important term in the court system that means whether a court has the obligation or duty or right to handle a case. For example, if you run a red light in your town or city, a municipal court would likely have jurisdiction over your case, but the next town or city over would not have jurisdiction over your case. If you attempted to flee from police when they attempted to stop you after you ran the red light, it becomes a more serious crime, and the municipal court might not have jurisdiction so you might be assigned to a higher-level court that has jurisdiction over the more serious crime. Jurisdiction varies from state to state and sometimes county to county.
Arraignment is when a judge determines whether or not the charges are supported by the prosecution’s initial evidence and tells the arrested what they are charged with, and the person says whether they are guilty or not guilty. At this time, the person is called the defendant, and the opposing side is called the prosecution. If there is reason to believe that the arrested is guilty, the judge will set bail conditions or send the defendant to jail or release them ROR (release on recognizances). An arraignment is not a trial, and the defendant is entitled to a trial within a reasonable amount of time after the arraignment.
Bail is money paid that is held by the White County or municipal court to make sure that the arrested does not flee the area before their trial. Bail amounts and other conditions are determined at the arraignment.
Once the case is over, the bail money is returned to the defendant. If a person does not pay bail, they remain in the White County jail until their trial. Bail can be denied if the court feels that the arrested would be a danger to others if released. Sometimes the court decides that there is a good chance that the arrested will show up for trial and not flee so they are released on their own promise, or recognizance without having to pay bail.
In Georgia, a bond hearing is a determination by a neutral and detached magistrate to determine an amount a person may pay to be released while the case is pending. Sometimes certain crimes will have preset bonds, that can become payable the moment an arrest is made. The minimum bond in Georgia is $1,000. If a court seeks a bond lower than that then it must be an OR bond, meaning the accused shall be released on their own recognizance, with no money down. During bond proceedings, the defendant is not required to have an attorney but has the right to an attorney if the defendant want one.
It is always important to have family involvement after being arrested. Not only can they make calls and communicate on your behalf (not all bond companies will accept collect calls), but family support will show the court that there are people who will make sure that the defendant makes it to court, not only for the defendant’s own good, but because they may have signed bond paperwork and responsible to pay if the defendant does not show in court. Chances of obtaining a bond from a bond company or clerk of court are better if family is involved.
(There have been phone scams to where a bond company calls and informs a person that their family member has been arrested and they ask for financial information. A bondsman will not call asking for money without involvement of the arrested.)
A judicial public bond or personal recognizance bond is a bond where someone representing the defendant signs paperwork promising to pay the money if the defendant does not show up to court. If the defendant does not show, the full amount will be due and the people who signed the paperwork will be responsible to pay the court. Sometimes the court decides that there is a good chance that the arrested will show up for trial and not flee so they are released on their own promise, or recognizance.
Cash percentage in lieu of bonds. If the bond order permits, the defendant pays a percentage of the amount, (sometimes up to 100%) to the court, which then holds the money until the case is over. The amount is returned if the defendant is acquitted or the case is dismissed, or it can be used toward paying any court fines incurred by the defendant.
Surety Bond is when defendant pays a percentage of the bond amount (usually 10–15%) to a professional bondsman or bail bond company licensed to do business in Georgia. The bondsman then signs the bond on behalf of the defendant. The defendant does not receive any of the money back. If the bondsman feels the defendant is a flight risk, they can refuse to give a bond or charge a higher fee. For example, a bondsman may determine a defendant is a flight risk if they are from a state other than Georgia.
A Property Bond is a bond in which the bond is pledged in land or home real estate (mobile homes are not accepted). Usually, the property must be in White County, and it must be worth at least the amount of the bond.
An Unsecured Bond is when the defendant is released without paying bail upfront, but they must pay the full amount if they do not appear in court.
A Secured Bond is when the defendant pays a portion of the bail up front. If they show to court,
They would get the money back and if they don’t show up to court, would have to pay the entire bail amount.
A criminal defense attorney (also called lawyer or counsel) is hired or retained to represent the arrested as early as possible after the arrest. If there is a chance that the case might go to trial and the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that the court provide an attorney. This is called indigent representation and a public defender or assigned attorney would represent the defendant in all proceedings. Indigent representation is only available misdemeanor and felony cases that could result in jail time, juvenile cases and certain appeal cases.
Indigent representation varies from county to county in Georgia. Some counties have public defenders, some have assigned or contracted attorneys. The court in each county can instruct a defendant in how to obtain defense.
Indigent defense in Georgia is funded mostly by the counties and also by the state. The vast majority of counties, with few exceptions, have a Public Defender’s Office, with attorneys with the sole job of being public defenders. If someone is incarcerated, that person automatically qualifies for a public defender if they so choose. If someone is on bond, they must fill out a financial affidavit so the office may determine if that person is within federal poverty guidelines to allow a public defender to represent them. In cases where a person does not qualify, a judge may grant an exception authorizing a Public Defender to represent the accused for any reason a Judge sees fit.
Those counties that do not have a Public Defender’s Office must appear before a Judge and have a Judge assign an attorney to represent them, which the county will pay for. This usually happens at arraignment.
For less serious cases or civil cases, there are pro bono volunteers who volunteer legal services for free or for a small fee. They often will hold clinics to teach people how to represent themselves in court or expunge their record which means to legally erase or eliminate a criminal or arrest record from public view.
This website provides contact information for pro bono services in Georgia.
Many courts will provide forms and help for people who want to represent themselves, called pro se. Here is a link for legal self-help information in Georgia.
A district court can refer to the first level of the legal system, or a minor court. District courts are located in the community. A district court can also refer to a U.S. Federal District Court that hears federal cases. There are three U.S. federal district courts in Georgia, with offices throughout the state. It is important that you check the address of the court you are to appear in rather than to ask someone because that person might give you directions to the wrong “district” court. Being late to court can land you in custody as well.
Pretrial proceeding is the process where both sides (prosecution and defense) gather information, interview witnesses, request records, videos etc. Pretrial proceedings also include communications with the judge assigned to the case and these appearances are either in person or by on-line conferencing. Some pretrial proceedings may not require a defendant’s appearance, allowing an attorney to appear in their place. The information that is gathered is called discovery and both sides must share the information that they have gathered. This information does not include conversations between the arrested and their attorney.
Most cases do not go to trial because both sides reach a plea deal, where both sides try to reach a reasonable punishment based on what was learned in the pretrial proceedings. A plea deal can only happen if the accused person admits they are guilty in exchange for a lighter punishment. The reason they must admit guilt is because it would not be fair to punish someone who claims they are not guilty. There are times in plea bargaining when the prosecution agrees to give a lighter sentence in exchange for information leading to the arrest of more serious criminal related to the crime.
Trial is where both sides share their information in front of a judge or a judge and jury. After listening to all the evidence, the judge or jury decides the verdict which is whether if the person is guilty or not guilty. If a court has only a judge hearing both sides, it is called a bench trial. If a jury is selected, it is called a jury trial. If the defendant is found non-guilty, they are released. If they are found to be guilty, the next step is sentencing.
Sentencing is the punishment that the judge decides the person should get. This could be jail or prison time, fines, community service, probation, or a combination.
Appeal is asking for a higher court to hear the case again at an appellate court. If the accused person thinks something went wrong at trial or has new information that was not available during the trial or that the sentence is too harsh, the defense attorney can ask for an appeal. It is not unusual for an appeal when there is a long jail sentence, but an appeal can be denied if the appellate court feels that the original trial or sentencing was fair.
In Georgia, a misdemeanor is divided into four types:
A felony crime is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor and is divided into different classes which are general guidelines and are based on the crime, prior criminal history and other factors. Examples of felony crimes are murder, rape, theft, aggravated assault, drug trafficking, kidnapping and identity theft.
In Georgia, there are 5 classes of felonies. Class A are the most serious Class E felonies. All felony charges carry at least one year in prison and/or fines, however, the State does have the ability to downward depart from these minimums if they so choose.
The White County Clerk of Court is an elected official whose responsibilities for Criminal Court’s administrative issues include receiving criminal warrants, receiving bail, creating the trial schedule, receiving fees, fines and maintaining court records.
A warrant is used to get someone to appear in court or to law enforcement. There must be good reason to believe that the person is involved in a crime. The warrant gives authority to arrest the person and search for evidence for the investigation of the crime.
A criminal summons is issued to request that a person appear in court at a particular time and date. It does not involve an arrest. A traffic ticket, summary citation or lesser misdemeanor could be considered a summons if you are given a court date.
A summary citation, commonly referred to as a ticket, is a criminal summons by a law enforcement officer either in person or via mail accusing the defendant of a minor offense, stating potential fine, listing the court having jurisdiction and instructions for addressing the issue. Defendants may or may not be required to appear in court or handle the matter by entering a plea via mail.
Fines are usually paid to the District Court or clerk of court and payment methods can be found on the District Court or White County Clerk of Court website. If you do not pay your fine on time, you can lose your driver’s license, have to pay additional fees or even have a warrant for your arrest. It is important to read the instructions on the ticket issued by the police officer or court at the time of your arrest. For a parking ticket or summary citation, the fine amount and how to send payment should be on the ticket.
In Georgia, the criminal court system is made up of magistrate, municipal, superior, state, juvenile, courts of appeal and one Supreme Court. It is important that you get the address of the court that you are to appear at because going to the wrong courthouse is not always an accepted excuse for not showing to court.
Municipal courts handle violations of municipal ordinances (city laws), traffic violations, parking violations and criminal misdemeanor offenses that occur within the city or towns police jurisdiction. Some municipal courts in Georgia can conduct preliminary hearings and hear misdemeanor shoplifting, criminal trespass and possession of marijuana cases. Cases in Municipal Court had no right to a jury trial, but at any point the accused may ask for a jury trial and transfer their case to the State Court of the County where the crime occurred.
Magistrate courts are county courts that can handle minor criminal offenses and issue warrants. Preliminary hearings can be held in magistrate court and magistrate judges can set the bail. In counties that have a State Court, all minor criminal offenses are handled in State Court.
State courts are located in each county and are similar in jurisdiction to the municipal and magistrate courts except that they can hold jury trials on misdemeanor cases. They also handle traffic violations and issue search and arrest warrants.
Superior courts cover one or more county and handle all felony trials. Superior court judges can review appeals from municipal and magistrate courts; however, State Court appeals statutorily go directly to the Court of Appeals. Superior Court has concurrent Jurisdiction with State Court and can handle misdemeanor cases if they choose, and normally do if there is a felony attached to the acts. IE. DUI with a felony fleeing (putting the general safety at risk), will all be handled in Superior Court.
Juvenile courts handle cases for individuals up to the age of 17 except for cases referred to superior court of juveniles aged 13 to 17 who commit certain violent felonies, known as the ‘Seven Deadlies’.
The following website provides an overview of services from Georgia’s juvenile justice programs.
Accountability Courts are being adopted in many states as a way to handle cases that involve non-violent and first-time offender cases in a way to where the offender can retain a job or responsibilities while following specific orders of the court as returned court appearances, periodic evaluations or testing for substances.
Georgia offers problem-solving courts solutions throughout the state that offer attention to the following areas: adult drug use, juvenile drug use, dependency, DUI, mental health and veteran court. However, before a person enrolls in these courts, Pre-Trial Diversion or the First Offender Act should be considered.
Pre-Trial Diversion is an offer from the State to first-time low-level offenders that allow them to take a class, pay a fine, and community service, in exchange for a dismissal and a sealing of the crime.
The First Offender Act in Georgia allows certain crimes (all except DUI and Seven Deadly) to have the sentence carried out, however, it will be sealed and restricted after the fact.
Accountability Courts can allow a person to retain a job and can end up in the case being restricted, however, only certain crimes apply. DUI and Drug Offenses in STATE court cannot be restricted as the Statute expressly prohibits it. DUI in SUPERIOR court also cannot be restricted as that is prohibited by the Statute. Most counties will not allow ANY seemingly forceful crime to be considered for any accountability court. Felony Obstruction usually is a bar to Pre-Trial Diversion or Accountability Court, and the State may oppose First Offender.
Courts of appeals review cases from the superior and state courts to determine whether there were errors made in the original trial. The justices can reverse the decision or sent the case back to the lower court to be re-tried.
The Georgia Supreme Court is like our United States’ Supreme Court because it has a panel of judges that rule on matters that have to do with someone’s constitutional rights or policies and laws. The Georgia State Supreme Court deals with the state constitution or laws or policies. Sometimes the Supreme Court will hear criminal cases on appeal when there is question on the state laws or procedures that lead to the appeal.
The criminal cases are usually referred from the district courts of appeal.
Federal Court deals with crimes involving violations of United States laws. Federal crimes include federal drug trafficking, federal tax evasion and fraud that crossed state lines and include crimes that occur on federal property as post offices or federal buildings.
Cases involving crimes that involve the FBI or DEA or Immigration agencies are federal crimes. Terrorism is a federal crime.
There are some differences in the Federal court system as compared to the Georgia state court system. For example, the attorneys who work for the courts are called United States Attorneys and Federal judges are called District Court Judges (not to be confused by local state district courts).
Federal Magistrate Judges hear the case early on, but they do not decide on the cases at a trial like the Federal District Court Judges. In a federal case, a grand jury is used for indictments.
There are three U.S. Federal Judicial Districts in Georgia.