Court Proceedings

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How to Navigate the Court System: If you are considering representing yourself on a case in the Municipal Court, you may benefit from becoming familiar with the court system. Many resources are available online, in public libraries, and bookstores.

Dress Code and Rules of the Courtroom
  1. Appropriate clothing and shoes will be worn.
  2. Wearing a hat and or cap in the courtroom is not allowed.
  3. Food and drinks are not allowed in the courtroom.
  4. Talking is not allowed while Court is in session, except with authorized Court personnel.
  5. No smoking in the courtroom.
Right to an Attorney

In all cases in the Municipal Court you have the right to an attorney. If you do not have the means to hire one, the Court may appoint an attorney to represent you. You may get an application for a court-appointed attorney at the court office and fill it out while you wait to see the Judge.

Disclaimer: The following information should not be construed as legal advice, but should be regarded as mere guidance. Any specific questions should be directed to your choice of legal representative.

Pleading To A Charge

You must decide upon and enter a plea to the charge against you. The three possible pleas are:

  1. No contest
  2. Guilty
  3. Not guilty

Your decision on what plea to enter is the most important decision you will have to make. We suggest that you read the following explanations before entering your plea.

  • Plea of No Contest
    A no contest plea simply means that you do not wish to contest the City's charge against you and allows the judge to find you guilty. A plea of no contest cannot be used against you as an admission of guilt in a civil suit for damages.
  • Plea of Guilty
    By a plea of guilty, you admit that you committed the act charged. Before entering your plea of guilty, you need to understand the following:
    • You have the right to hear the City's evidence and to require the City to prove its case. The law does not require you to prove anything.
    • Your plea of guilty could be used later in a civil suit for damages as an admission by you that you were at fault.
  • Plea of Not Guilty
    A plea of not guilty means that you are informing the Court that you deny guilt and that the City must prove it charges against you. If you plead not guilty, you will need to decide whether to employ an attorney to represent you at trial. You may defend yourself. If you are a minor (under 18 years of age) one of your parents should be present.
Trial

If you decide to defend yourself, please read the following paragraphs regarding trial procedure and the manner of presenting your case. Under the American system of justice, all persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. On a plea of not guilty, a trial is held and the Cty is required to prove all allegations against you as contained in the formal complaint beyond a reasonable doubt before a verdict of guilty can be reached.

In the Municipal Court, all trials are by Judge, NOT by jury. You are entitled to hear any and all evidence introduced against you. You have the right to testify on your own behalf, as well as a constitutional right not to testify. If you choose to testify, the prosecutor will have the right to cross examine you.

You may call witnesses on your own behalf. You also have the right to have the Court issue subpoenas for witnesses to ensure their appearance at trial -- you must first furnish the Court the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of witnesses to the Court as soon as possible, and at least 10 working days before your trial date.

Presenting the Case

The Cty will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you. After each prosecutor's witness has finished, you will have the right to cross-examine him/her. Your examinations must be in the form of questions and you must not argue with the witness.

After the prosecution is done presenting its case, you may present your case. You have the right to call any witnesses who know anything about the incident and to introduce exhibits such as photographs and diagrams.

The Verdict

The verdict of the Judge will be based on the facts presented during trial. In making his determination he can only consider the testimony of the witnesses who are under oath. If you are found guilty by the Judge, he/she will proceed to sentencing.

Fines

The sentence assessed by the Court is affected by the facts and circumstances of the case. Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine. However, aggravating circumstances may increase the fine. If you have circumstances for the Judge to consider, you may present them after conviction and before sentencing.

Right to Appeal

If you are not satisfied with the judgment of the Court, you have the right to appeal your case to Harvey County District Court. If you decide to appeal, a written notice of appeal must be filed with the court clerk within 10 days of the judgment.

Common Mistakes

Defending yourself can be difficult, particularly if you are unfamiliar with procedural requirements. Mistakes commonly made by self-represented defendants include:

  • Unacceptable Questions: Questions must be open-ended, not leading. An acceptable question might be, "Can you describe what you saw..." but NOT, "isn't it true that you saw..."