A Court Case from Start to Finish

Dekalb County District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming gives a ten-minute overview of how court cases work, with lots of helpful information about legal terminology.

A Court Case from Start to Finish

Gwen Keyes Flemings is a distict attorney for Dekalb County.  As district attorney, she was elected by the county to help enforce the criminal law.  She deals with felonies, which are serious crimes like murder or rape in which the criminal can be punished for more than a year of jail time.  Robert James, the solicitor-general, handles the less serious crimes called misdemeanors, which are things like domestic violence and theft under $500 in which the criminal gets 1 year or less jail time as punishment.

Gwen Keyes Flemings shared the process by which a trial occurs:

First, someone observes a crime.  If a police officer sees it, he can arrest the individual.  Otherwise, a witness can go to magistrate court to fill out a warrant, which is a document suggesting that a crime occurred.  

The person being charged with the crime is called the defendant.  He or she will go to the magistrate court where the judge can set bond, which means he tells the defendant the amount of money he or she may need to pay to stay out of jail while the case is not yet in trial.

Then, the trial information is sent to the district attorney's office, where they decide whether they think there is enough evidence for the case.  If they think there is, they will take the case to the grand jury.  The grand jury is a group of Dekalb County citizens who decide whether or not there is enough evidence for the case to go before a judge.

If they think there is enough evidence, the case will go to a superior court judge.  There is first an arraignment, at which a judge reads the indictment, a paper outlining what the charges are against the defendant.  At that time, the defendant can either plead guilty (say they committed the crime) or plead innocent (say they didn't do it).

If they plead not guilty, then they will have a trial before a jury of 12 Dekalb County citizens.  These jury members will decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.  A trial lasts about a week on average, but it can range from 2 days to over six weeks, depending on how many witnesses are called, the number of crimes, and the seriousness of the crimes.

At the end of trial, the jury reads the verdict which is the decision about whether the defendant is guilty.

During the entire legal process, the defendant is guaranteed certain rights.  These rights are:

  • Right to not incriminate self
  • Right to fair and speedy trial
  • Right to jury by peers
  • Right to an attorney

If the defendant can not afford an attorney, the county will provide a public defender.  The public defender will provide free legal counsel throughout the course of the legal process.  

Gwen Keyes Fleming (for felonies) 404-371-2561 Robert James (for misdemeanors) 404-371-2201

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