Steps in a Criminal Case:
Misdemeanors in Tulsa County District Court

steps in a criminal case misdemeanors in Tulsa County District Court

When you’re arrested and charged with a crime, the arrest itself can seem like punishment. You might be handcuffed, detained, photographed, deprived of personal property and even jailed. You could be yelled at and likely verbally accused by uniformed officers. The experience is sometimes traumatic, but arrest is just one of the steps in a criminal case. Knowing the steps of an Oklahoma misdemeanor case can help reduce the fear and anxiety of an arrest, and help you develop a plan to protect your rights. This page reviews the steps in a Tulsa County misdemeanor case.

A person charged with a misdemeanor in Tulsa might be charged in municipal court, state court, tribal court or federal court. This page addresses primarily Oklahoma misdemeanor cases filed in Tulsa County District Court. Typical misdemeanor offenses include driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence (DWI or DUI), petite larceny (commonly called petty theft) or shoplifting, assault, battery, public intoxication, prostitution, minor drug crimes and possession of paraphernalia.

Misdemeanor Investigation

Misdemeanor investigations begin almost anywhere — with a traffic stop, a knock on the door or some unexpected event while you are in a public place. Some investigations begin with information received from an anonymous tipster. Most people under investigation for a misdemeanor who’ve not yet been charged don’t contact a criminal defense attorney. People sometimes talk to police in an effort to explain things. Police might even suggest they are giving you a chance to clear things up by talking with them. They might also be giving you a chance to unwittingly help them build a case against you. Police can and will lie to get what they want.

Police, or even private security guards, might detain you and ask questions without giving you a Miranda warning, commonly known as reading your rights. Yet statements made to police before a person has been “Mirandized” and arrested often find their way into misdemeanor cases. If you’re a suspect or person of interest in a police investigation, it’s never too soon to seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney.

Arrest

The circumstances in which police are lawfully allowed to arrest a person for a misdemeanor in Oklahoma are limited by Oklahoma law. Generally, the law only allows police to arrest a person for misdemeanors committed or attempted in their presence. There are exceptions, though. Statements you make to police can affect whether they can lawfully arrest you. Your statement could provide probable cause to arrest you for an offense such as threatening someone or violating a protective order, even though the officer didn’t see you commit the offense.

If police don’t immediately arrest a suspect, and believe they can make a case, they typically ask the Tulsa County District Attorney to file a warrant in District Court. With a judge’s signature, the warrant authorizes police to arrest the person.

Arraignment

Your first appearance or “initial appearance” in an Oklahoma misdemeanor case is an arraignment. This is when prosecutors provide a copy of the charges against you. Most people arrested on misdemeanors post bond and are released. That’s also when many start looking for a criminal defense attorney. Those unable to post bond usually appear in court via video conference instead of in a formal courtroom. A defendant who does not yet have an attorney and who can’t afford to post bond can request a pauper’s affidavit, and ask for a court-appointed attorney at this time.

Misdemeanor Trials in Tulsa County District Court

Unless a person pleads guilty or charges are dropped, misdemeanor charges move toward trial. That doesn’t mean all cases actually go to trial. The steps in a criminal trial provide prosecutors and defendants alike opportunities to resolve a case. Information that comes out during the process can significantly affect the outcome of a case.

Discovery

Before your case goes to trial, your attorney will most likely deliver a discovery request to prosecutors. If a case heats up, attorney might file a formal discovery motion. This is part of your constitutional right to confront witnesses who testify against you. Police and prosecutors are obliged to hand over evidence, including “exculpatory evidence” or evidence that shows you are not guilty.

Careful examination of evidence provided during discovery can be the basis of trial strategy, a plea bargain or a motion to dismiss charges against you. In contested misdemeanor cases, it’s not uncommon for criminal defense attorneys to file motions to dismiss the case before trial. Sometimes a judge grants the defense motion. Other times, motions raise legal arguments that could later be the basis for an appeal.

Jury Trial Sounding Docket

This is the step where many Tulsa misdemeanor cases are resolved. Negotiations with prosecutors typically lead to reduced charges, deferred sentencing under court supervision, suspended sentence or, if the case is particularly flawed, an agreement to drop charges.

Under a deferred sentencing agreement, a defendant pleads guilty or no contest, but the judge defers sentencing until a later date. If a defendant complies with the terms until a certain review date, the defendant can then withdraw the plea, whereupon the case will be dismissed and expunged.

If the misdemeanor defense attorney does not reach a plea agreement on a defendant’s behalf, at this stage, each side discloses who they plan to call as witnesses if the case goes to trial.

Pre-Trial Hearings

Even in a misdemeanor case, the steps toward a trial can meander through a maze of legal procedures. At pre-trial hearings, courts hear arguments and rule on motions about what evidence or testimony will be admitted during trial. Constitutional issues arise about searches, witness identification and admissions or confessions.

Trial

Most misdemeanor cases in Tulsa are resolved without going to trial. Yet there are times Tulsa criminal defense attorneys and their clients decide the best strategy is to put on a trial. Defendants have the right to ask for a trial by jury, or a bench trial in front of a judge. In misdemeanor cases, the jury will consist of six members. If a complicated legal issue is involved, even when a local judge or jury could potentially find a defendant guilty, a trial can provide the basis for an appeal.

At trial, each side presents opening arguments, then the prosecution calls witnesses who provide testimony in support of the state’s case. This is called direct testimony. A criminal defense attorney then has an opportuntiy cross examine prosecution witnesses. In some cases, the prosecution asks to “redirect” a witness, which means to ask more questions, after which the defense sometimes chooses to “re-cross” — or ask more questions intended to disprove the state’s case. While questioning its witnesses, the prosecution usually introduces evidence related to their testimony. Defense attorneys often object to introduction of certain evidence, to testimony provided by witnesses, to unfair statements by the prosecution or on other grounds based on extensive statewide and local court rules.

After the state “rests” its case, the defense often asks the judge for a directed verdict of not guilty, arguing that prosecutors have not presented persuasive evidence. If the judge denies that motion, the defense usually calls witnesses and presents evidence. As each witness is questioned, the state cross-examines with their own questions. Defense attorneys sometimes redirect their witness with more questions, and prosecutors sometimes even re-cross-examine defense witnesses. Testimony or evidence presented during trial can open the door to rebuttal witnesses by either side. For that reason and to avoid contributing to the state’s case, attorneys advise some clients against testifying on their own defense and are careful who they call as witnesses.

After the defense rests its case, misdemeanor defense attorneys sometimes again ask the judge to for a directed verdict based on insufficient evidence or on technical grounds. If the judge declines, the defense and prosecution offer closing arguments. Prosecutors go first, then defense, and — if they so choose  — prosecutors get the last word.

Deliberation

If a case goes that far, the jury is then asked to deliberate. Jurors are instructed to find the defendant not guilty if the state hasn’t proven the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They’re not asked to find the defendant “innocent.” The burden of proof rests on the state to prove its case to that degree of certainty — not beyond any doubt or a shadow of a doubt, but beyond “reasonable doubt.”

If jurors don’t all agree on a verdict of guilty or not guilty, the trial may result in a deadlocked jury or “hung jury” in which case the court may order a mistrial. Prosecutors may or may not decide to take the case to trial again after a jury is deadlocked.

If the jury votes not guilty, that’s the end of the case. If the defendant is not being held on other charges, and is still in custody, the court will usually release them on the spot. Bond payments might be returned to the defendant, but if a defendant has paid a bondsman to post bond, the bondsman will still keep an amount agreed upon before bond was posted.

Sentencing

If the court finds the defendant guilty, the next stage is sentencing. A defendant in Tulsa County District Court may ask that the jury make a sentencing recommendation. The judge might or might not accept the jury’s recommendation. In a misdemeanor case, a judge will usually impose a sentence at the conclusion of a trial.

Penalties for misdemeanor offenses can include fines, probation and up to a year in county jail. Misdemeanor convictions can also become a predicate of felony charges if a person is later convicted of another crime that might have been a misdemeanor on a first offense.

Appeals

If a defendant hasn’t given up the right to appeal in plea negotiations, there is an automatic right to appeal a conviction. Appellate proceedings can continue long after a defendant has been found guilty and completed a sentence. Grounds for appeal may include any of a broad set of legal challenges, but those challenges must usually have been first raised during trial. A person who can’t afford an attorney may ask for a court appointed attorney for direct appeals, but beyond that a person must use their own resources or some other source of support to retain counsel. Some defendants at various stages of criminal prosecution may seek to represent themselves. Courts systematically read stern warnings to such pro se defendants, reminding them that they’re bound by rules of the court.

Free Consultation: Tulsa Criminal Defense Attorney

This outline provides a brief summary of the steps in a criminal case in Tulsa County District Court. Each local court in Oklahoma sets forth rules and procedures. Likewise, each case presents unique facts, and even routine cases may raise complex issues about police conduct, language of the law, court rules or even constitutional rights.

If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor in Tulsa Oklahoma, or believe you’re being investigated for a crime, one of the most important steps you can take is to get a skilled defense lawyer on your side. The Wirth Law Office’s criminal defense attorneys are here to help. For a free consultation with a Tulsa, Oklahoma misdemeanor criminal defense lawyer, call the Wirth Law Office – Tulsa at 1 (918) 879-1681 or toll free at 1 (888) Wirth-Law. If you prefer written correspondence, you may submit a question through the form at the top right of this page.

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