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What must I do if I have to appear in Magistrate Court?

By Unknown | Magistrate Court, SJA | April 24, 2009

Your presence in U.S. Magistrate Court is perhaps your first experience in a courtroom. This fact sheet has been prepared to help you understand the Court proceedings and to inform you of your rights and duties.

The U.S. Magistrate Court is part of the federal judiciary. This is NOT a military court, although it is being held here at Fort Riley. Court is held at Fort Riley as a courtesy to those who use this installation.

This Court is only authorized to hear misdemeanor cases. No cases will be filed before this Court that are for a felony offense.

The proceedings in U.S. Magistrate Court are recorded by audio equipment. You will need to speak clearly, loudly, and answer questions in a "yes" or "no" fashion.

APPEARANCE IN COURT

When you appear in Court you will be required to obey the following rules:

1) Your clothing must include shirt/blouse, pants/skirt, and shoes. Wearing of shorts is not permitted.

2) The wearing of hats and caps is not allowed.

3) Food, drinks, or smoking are not allowed in the Courtroom.

4) While Court is in session, talking is not allowed, except with authorized Court personnel.

RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY

In all cases in U.S. Magistrate Court, you may have an attorney to represent you.

If you are charged with an offense that could result in jail time as part of your sentence, you will need to determine whether you want to continue with or without an attorney. If you desire an attorney, and if the Court finds you do not have the resources to hire one, the Court will consider appointing an attorney for you. Before the Court can do this, you must complete a Financial Affidavit that has been supplied to you. Even if there is a remote chance you will be requesting court-appointed counsel, please have this form completely filled out prior to the time your case is called. The Federal Public Defender's Office has a representative available at all Court sessions. Cases are assigned on a rotation basis, with 75% of all cases going to the Federal Public Defender's Office. The remaining 25% of the cases are assigned to a panel of attorneys in the Junction City/Manhattan area. If the Court appoints an attorney to represent you, the Court will provide you the attorney's name and telephone number. It is your responsibility to contact the attorney.

INITIAL APPEARANCE

At your initial appearance in Court, the Court will call your case and you should come to the defense counsel table and be seated. The Government is represented in all proceedings by a Special Assistant United States Attorney, and he/she will provide you a copy of the Information (charging document) and a statement of probable cause. The Special Assistant United States Attorney is the prosecutor in the case.

The prosecutor will also file a copy of this with the Court. The Court must determine if there is probable cause to allow the filing of any charge. Just because the Court finds there is probable cause and allows the charges to be filed, does not mean you are guilty or that you will be found guilty. This only means there is sufficient information to allow the filing of a charge. The Court will advise you of the charges and ask you if you understand the charge(s) filed against you.

Also at this initial appearance, the Court will address the issued of appointment of counsel and bond for your case. The Court has several options of whether to release you on your own recognizance without filing a bond, or requiring some type of signature on a bond with or without the posting of money. The Court is sometimes assisted in this process with the services of the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Office. An officer may interview your prior to the Court releasing you. If the Court requires you to sign a bond in your case, you must sign the bond before leaving the Courtroom.

Prior to leaving the Court, the Clerk will give you a sheet of paper with the date and time of your next Court appearance written on it.

ARRAIGNMENT

Arraignment is your next appearance, typically at the next Court session, in approximately two weeks. You will appear with counsel, or if you have no lawyer, you will represent yourself. The Court will ask you how you want to plea to the charge(s). You must decide to enter on one of three possible pleas:

1) Guilty

2) Not Guilty

3) Nolo Contendere (No Contest)

If you plead not guilty, the Court will set your case for trial at a future time. If you plead no contest or guilty, the Court will proceed to sentencing, and may set your sentencing for a later date.

However, before the Court can accept your plea, you must decide whether you want to proceed before the U.S. Magistrate Judge. You have the right to have this case transferred to an Article III (U.S. District Judge) in Topeka, Wichita, or Kansas City. You will be asked to sign a waiver if you want to proceed before the U.S. Magistrate Judge at Fort Riley.

TRIAL

You will next appear for trial. At this setting you will either proceed to a trial before the Court or enter a plea of guilty. After a plea of guilty or conviction by the Court after a trial, the Court will in some cases order that a presentence investigation be completed by the U.S. Probation Office. You have a right to a copy of this report prior to sentencing to discuss these matters with your attorney, if you have an attorney on your case.

At trial you are entitled to hear all of the testimony introduced against you. You have the right to testify in your own behalf. You also have the constitutional right not to testify. If you chose not to testify, your refusal cannot and will not be used against you in determining your guilt or innocence. However, if you do choose to testify, the prosecutor will have the right to cross-examine you.

You may call witnesses to testify in your own behalf. You also have the right to have the Court issue subpoenas for witnesses to ensure their appearance at trial. However, you must furnish the names, address, and telephone number of these witnesses to the Court as soon as possible so that witnesses may be located and the subpoena served.

SENTENCING

At the sentencing hearing the Court will impose the sentence in your case. You or your attorney have the right to make comments regarding any sentencing factors that you wish to present. After the Court imposes the sentence, or a sentence of probation, the U.S. Probation Office will work with you to ensure that the sentence is carried out. You could receive a fine that would require immediate payment. If for some reason you cannot pay the fine in full at the time of sentencing, the Court will continue your matter on the payment docket after deciding on a payment schedule. This Court takes the payment of fines seriously and non-payment will result in further Court action. The Court has the option of issuing a Notice to Appear or a Warrant for your arrest for failure to pay fines that are owed.

In all cases, the Court will impose a special assessment to be paid to the Crime Victims Fund.

These funds are also due at sentencing unless arrangements are otherwise made with the Court.

QUESTIONS?

If you have any questions that were not addressed in this letter, please contact the U.S. Magistrate Court Clerk at (785)239-6392.

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