Assaults, thefts, possession offenses, mostly marijuana possession, and DUIs dominate the tens of thousands of misdemeanor arrests that occur in Georgia every year. All these infractions have significant direct and collateral consequences. Probation in a misdemeanor, even for a first-time offense, could be half a year or more. During that time, defendants are under the court’s thumb. After probation ends, the indirect consequences continue. For example, a DUI conviction usually means at least three years of sky-high auto insurance rates.
There are several reasons prosecutors are very aggressive in misdemeanor cases. Most lawyers do not want to prosecute misdemeanors forever. Obtaining guilty verdicts is the only way to build a resume and move up the corporate ladder. Furthermore, prosecutors like to foster good relationships with police officers. So, if they believe there is enough evidence to go to trial, prosecutors usually run with the baton. Politics usually comes into play as well. Most of the aforementioned misdemeanors are political hot-button infractions.
No matter what misdemeanor you care charged with, a Marietta criminal defense attorney can successfully resolve the charges and reduce, or eliminate, the harsh direct and indirect effects of a conviction. This resolution could be a plea to a lesser included offense, a not guilty verdict at trial, or a complete dismissal of charges. Most misdemeanors involve one of the two resolutions discussed below.
Crimes which may be considered misdemeanors in Marietta Ga
- Assault and battery
- Disorderly conduct
- Drug charges
- DUI (driving under the influence)
- Probation violations
- Reckless driving
- Reckless conduct
- Resisting arrest
- Violation of Orders of Protection
- Violation of Restraining Orders
- Weapons charges
In the 1990s, about 80 percent of criminal cases settled out of court. By 2020, that percentage had increased to 95 percent. The so-called “trial penalty” has increased significantly over this period. Back in the day, if the defendant went to trial and lost, the court-imposed penalty wasn’t much worse that the agreed plea penalty. Today, the gap is very large. Usually, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Prosecutors usually make plea offers at the first appearance. These offers are based solely on the severity of the offense. Furthermore, misdemeanor prosecutors are very low on the totem pole. Therefore, the initial offer usually comes from a supervisor. In other words, the initial offer has almost nothing to do with the facts of the case.
Despite this fact, this offer tempts many incarcerated defendants. These individuals, quite understandably, do not want to sit in jail and wait for trial dates. That’s why prompt jail release is so important in these cases. A Marietta criminal defense attorney needs time to investigate the facts and research the law. Taking the first plea offer is like paying sticker price for a new car.
Investigation and research usually give a Marietta criminal defense attorney considerable leverage. Frequently, the evidence in misdemeanor cases is either weak or circumstantial. Additionally, many misdemeanors have several different elements. Prosecutors must establish all of them beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assume Jack and Jill have a violent argument. When officers arrive, it’s clear they had both been drinking. Jill has a red mark on her shoulder where, she claims, Jack pushed her against the wall. Most jurisdictions have mandatory arrest policies in these situations. So, this case would almost certainly end up in court.
But the evidence is weak. Jill’s testimony is tainted by her alcohol consumption. And, her mild injury could have been unintentional.
Many cases are like this one. They have both factual and legal issues. If the prosecutor agrees that it’s a weak case, and politics does not get in the way, the prosecutor will most likely offer a more favorable deal.
Generally, defendants plead nolo contendere (no contest) in misdemeanors. This plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea. But there’s a moral difference between admitting guilt and admitting that you are beaten.
Some prosecutors are stubborn or inexperienced. They won’t or can’t see the weaknesses in their own cases. Other times, politics prevents prosecutors from offering a more favorable deal.
Open pleas are often a good idea in these situations. Defendants literally throw themselves on the mercy of the court. They plead no contest without an agreed plea deal.
Judges are usually more experienced and more independent than prosecutors. Additionally, judges do not represent the state. If the judge has a reputation for leniency, an open plea could be a good idea in these situations.
A slow plea, which is only available in some courts, is basically a combination of a plea and a trial. The defendant pleads guilty and a jury assesses punishment. Slow pleas often work well if the evidence is strong and there is no legal defense, but there are some extenuating circumstances.
Although trials are statistically rare, given the volume of cases, they are rather common. Just like there are several plea options available, several trial options are available as well.
The judge serves as both referee and factfinder. Usually, there are no legal arguments in bench trials. Instead, the judge simply listens to and weighs the evidence.
Many misdemeanors are single-witness cases. The only witness is the arresting officer. Especially in these cases, a bench trial may only last a half hour. Since most judges can hear three or four a day, most defendants don’t have to wait long for a bench trial date. That speedy process could be good or and, depending on the type of case.
As a rule of thumb, bench trials are a good idea if there is a fatal weakness in the evidence. Jury trials are usually a good idea if the evidence is marginal and the defendant is sympathetic.
A nerd defense case is a good example. Jurors aren’t supposed to judge by appearance, but they do. The nerd defense is especially effective in violent criminal matters. Defendants who wear suits and ties simply don’t look like violent people.
Jury sympathy is not enough to obtain an acquittal. Jurors need an evidentiary weakness or something else to hang their hats on. The evidence is inherently weak if the matter goes to trial. If that wasn’t the case, the defendant would have pleaded guilty.
The plea-or-trial decision largely depends on the facts and circumstances of each individual case. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.