TYPES OF CRIMES
Oklahoma statute defines a felony as a crime which is, or may be, punishable by death or imprisonment in the penitentiary.
According to Oklahoma law, every other crime (that is not a felony) is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are typically punishable by fines and/or imprisonment for one year or less in county jail.
Arrests constitute seizures of the person, thus arrests must be reasonable to comply with the 4th and 14th Amendments. Whether a seizure is reasonable depends on the scope of the seizure (arrest vs. investigatory stop) and the strength of the suspicion inducing the seizure (arrest requires probable cause vs. an investigatory detention is typically based on reasonable suspicion).
An arrest must be based on probable cause. Generally, police need to obtain a warrant before arresting a person in a public place. A few exceptions of the warrant requirement include:
- When the police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a felony has been committed and that the suspect committed the felony.
- When a misdemeanor is committed in the presence of the officer.
- When the police discover evidence in plain view (and are legitimately on the premises) and have probable cause to believe that the item is evidence of a crime.
- Police officers are in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing felon.
Anyone in police custody and accused of a crime must be issued Miranda warnings prior to interrogation by the police. The suspect must be clearly informed that:
- The suspect has the right to remain silent;
- Anything the suspect says can be used against the suspect in court;
- The suspect has the right to the presence of an attorney; and
- If the suspect cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed if the suspect desires.
This is when law enforcement transports you to jail after taking you into custody. Upon arrival, the accused is searched for weapons and contraband, photographed, fingerprinted, and asked routine questions such as the accused’s biographical information.
After the accused is processed, bond must be posted prior to release. Bail is an insurance policy that you will show up for court. Bonds are subject to increase or reduction by the court.
- Own Recognizance Bond: The booking officer may grant the accused an Own Recognizance Bond (“O.R. Bond”) depending on the nature of the offense, whether the accused has a history of failure to appear for court, and the status of the jail’s capacity.
- Bail Bondsman: This is the most common method to secure bond. The bondsman is similar to an insurance broker by providing an insurance policy that you will show up for court. For misdemeanor offenses, the bondsman typically operates on a fixed fee schedule. For felonies, in contrast, the fees range from ten (10) to fifteen (15) percent of the total amount of the bond.
- Cash Bond: The accused or the accused’s family may post a cash bond at the booking desk in the full or partial amount of the bond. KEEP YOUR RECEIPT!! When the case has concluded, fines and court costs assessed by the court may be deducted from the cash bond.
- Reducing Bond: There are two (2) ways to reduce bond. First, your attorney may hold an informal conference with the assistant district attorney assigned to the case. If the prosecutor consents to the bond reduction, an agreed bond order is generated and submitted to the judge. If the prosecutor refuses to reduce bond, your attorney may file a formal motion for reduction of bond.
THE CHARGING DECISION
Once law enforcement books a suspect into jail, the officer must submit a prosecution report to the district attorney’s office. The prosecutor reads the report, examines the strength of the evidence, identifies potential legal issues, and either approves or declines to file charges.
Soon after the accused is arrested, he/she must be brought before a magistrate who will advise the defendant of his/her rights, set bail, appoint counsel if necessary, and inform the defendant of the next court date. At the initial arraignment, your attorney will make his/her entry of appearance and you will be provided a copy of the “Information” (document containing the charges).
PRELIMINARY HEARING CONFERENCE
The purpose of the Preliminary Hearing Conference is for your attorney to sit down with the prosecutor; discuss the facts, merits, and circumstances of the case; and possibly reach a resolution. At the time of the PHC, the accused must appear in court.
PRELIMINARY HEARING: (FELONY ONLY)
The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the magistrate to determine whether the defendant should be “bound over” for trial on the State’s charges. During this hearing, the State has the burden to show:
- A crime has been committed, AND
- Probable cause exists that the defendant committed the crime
Your attorney will be given the opportunity to demurrer (challenge the sufficiency of the evidence) and argue issues such as evidence and testimony unlawfully obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.
If the magistrate binds the defendant over for trial, the defendant will be formally arraigned. This marks the transition from the investigative stage to the disposition stage of the case. Formal arraignment takes place before the district judge and not the magistrate because once the magistrate binds the defendant over, the magistrate loses jurisdiction over the case.
After formal arraignment, the defendant’s next court appearance will be for pre-trial. The purpose of this proceeding is to request a trial or plea date. At this time, your attorney must file any motions such as:
- Motion to Quash: Challenges the sufficiency of the evidence presented during Preliminary Hearing,
- Motion to Suppress: Generally filed due to 4th and 14th Amendment search and seizure violations,
- Notice of Alibi: The defendant must provide notice establishing an alibi to the District Attorney five (5) days prior to trial,
- Motion in Limine: Motion to keep out prejudicial evidence,
- Motion for Discovery and Exculpatory Evidence: The law requires that the State provide the defendant discovery of police reports, the names and addresses of witnesses, and disclosure of evidence which may exonerate the defendant.
If the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor are unable to resolve the case, the case will proceed to trial. In order for the defendant to be found guilty of the alleged crime, the State has the burden to prove each and every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.