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Misdemeanor Charges - What Happens Now?

This page provides basic information about what typically happens in cases where a person is charged with a misdemeanor criminal offense. It is not a complete description of the judicial process, the laws that apply in criminal cases, or the rights of a person accused of a crime. If you need further information or advice, you should contact an attorney. This Department can provide some information. However, neither this department or a judge can give you legal advice.

What is a Misdemeanor?

Offenses can be grouped in three general categories. The most serious are felonies, the penalty for which can include a term in a state prison. Next are misdemeanors, a penalty of which can include up to one year in a county jail. The least serious are called infractions (mostly traffic offenses), for which a maximum penalty does not exceed a $100.00 fine pus court costs.

Procedures for each of these offenses are somewhat different. The procedure for the least serious offenses (infractions) is the quickest and simplest. The procedure for felonies is the most complicated. The need to protect both the public and the rights of the accused is greatest for the most serious offenses.

If someone has been charged with a misdemeanor, they will have been given a citation prepared by a police officer, or a complaint prepared by a prosecutor. The citation or complaint includes a short statement of the offense for which they have been charged, and states whether the offense is an infraction, misdemeanor or a felony.

In every criminal case, there are two parties. The "Plaintiff" is the State of Idaho, who is represented by a county prosecutor (if the charge is a misdemeanor committed outside a city) or a city prosecutor (if the charge is a misdemeanor committed within a city). The person charged with a crime is called the "Defendant."

Being Charged With a Misdemeanor - What Happens Next?

A citation is received which states a date and time to appear at the courthouse. If a complaint has been received, a summons is given which states a date and time to appear at the county courthouse. The date and time in the citation or summons is for the initial appearance or arraignment.

What Happens at The Initial Arraignment?

The initial arraignment is for the court to inform the defendant of their rights, to inform them of the charges and possible penalties, to find out if they want a lawyer, and to find out if the defendant wants to plead guilty or not guilty. The defendant should appear at the courthouse 15 minutes before the time shown on their citation or summons, and check in at the magistrate court clerk's office. The clerk can direct them to the courtroom in which their case will be called.

Rights Form

The defendant is given a rights form, which has important information about their legal rights. When their case is called, the judge will ask if they have read the form and if they understand their rights.

Charges and Possible Penalties

The judge tells the defendant the charge(s) and possible penalties, and asks if they understand them. At this point the judge is only asking if they understand the charges. The judge is not asking if they admit to anything. If the defendant does not understand the charge or the possible penalties, they can tell the judge they do not understand and the judge will explain.

Right To Counsel

The judge will ask if the defendant wants to be represented by a lawyer. If they want a lawyer but cannot afford one, they can ask the judge for a court appointed lawyer. If they request a court appointed lawyer, they will either fill out a form or the judge will ask questions about their finances to make sure they qualify.

If the court appoints a lawyer for the defendant, the defendant may be required to reimburse the county for all or part of the costs of the court appointed lawyer. A court appointed lawyer is available only if the charge is one for which jail time is possible.

Plea - Guilty or Not Guilty?

The judge will ask if the defendant wants to plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, they are admitting that they committed the offense for which they have been charged. The defendant is also giving up their right to a trial and their right to remain silent. If they are not sure whether they want to plead guilty or not guilty, the defendant can ask the judge to reschedule their initial appearance for another day so they can speak to a lawyer first. The defendant can also plead not guilty and talk to a lawyer before their next appearance, or simply leave it to the prosecution to prove its case.

What if The Defendant is Under the Age of 18?

If the defendant is under 18 years of age, they must have a parent or guardian with them at all court proceedings. Their case will proceed the same as an adult case. Defendants under 18 years of age who are found guilty and sentenced to serve time in jail will serve their time in a juvenile detention facility. If the defendant is served with a petition, instead of a citation or complaint, then their case was brought under the Juvenile Corrections Act and will proceed according to the Idaho Juvenile Rules, in which case the information in this pamphlet will not apply.

The Defendant Pled "Not Guilty" at Their Initial Appearance - What Happens Next?

The court schedules a pre-trial conference and trial, and notice of the date and time for the defendant's case is mailed to them or their attorney. If they do not receive the notice within a week or two after their initial appearance, the defendant can call his attorney or the court to find out when their next appearance will be.

What Happens At A Pre-Trial Conference?

At the pretrial conference, both parties must come prepared with the following information: A list of the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses they intend to call at trial, and a list of any exhibits they intend to offer at trial. The defendant is required to attend the pretrial conference, even if they are represented by a lawyer. The defendant will have the opportunity to discuss a plea bargain with the prosecution. The prosecution may agree to dismiss or reduce the charge, or may agree to a particular sentence. The defendant may decide to change their plea to guilty. If an agreement is reached, the parties must present their agreement to the court for the judge's approval.

The agreement is usually presented at the pretrial conference. However, sometimes this is scheduled for another day. If no agreement is reached, or if the judge rejects the agreement, the case proceeds to trial. In cases where there will be a jury trial, other pretrial issues are also addressed at the pretrial conference. The judge also addresses any other issues that need to be resolved before trial.

What Happens At a Jury Trial?

In a jury trial, six community members are called to be a jury; they hear the evidence and decide if the defendant is guilty. The trial begins with jury selection. About 25 potential jurors are summoned to court the morning of your trial. The judge begins by asking the potential jurors questions to make sure none of them has previous knowledge of the parties involved, or any beliefs about the issues in the case that might cause a juror to be biased for or against either party. The prosecution, and then the defense, may also ask questions. Juror's names are drawn at random, and the first six jurors chosen are the jury. The court prepares jury instructions that describe to the jury what is going to happen and what the jury is to do. The court provides both parties with copies of the instructions while the jury is outside the courtroom. Both parties proceed with opening statements, calling witnesses, and closing arguments, as described above for a court trial. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the judge determines the sentence.

What Happens If the Defendant Pleads Guilty or Is Found Guilty?

If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty, the judge must next determine the penalty (also called the sentence). The court may decide the sentence at the time they plead guilty or ar found guilty, or may schedule sentencing for another day (for example, in domestic battery cases, the law requires the defendant to get an evaluation from a court approved anger management counselor prior to sentencing, and in most drug or alcohol related cases, the law requires the defendant to get an evaluation from a court approved drug and alcohol abuse counselor before sentencing).

At sentencing, the prosecution may make a recommendation regarding the sentence. The defendant's attorney may also make a recommendation, and the defendant may make a statement on their own behalf. The judge decides the sentence, and it is written in a document called a judgment. The defendant will be give a copy of the judgment. In determining the sentence, the court considers three factors: accountability (punishment), skill development (to help avoid future offenses) and community protection. The judge imposes a sentence that the court determines is appropriate to the defendant and to the circumstances, in light of these three factors. The sentence must be within minimum or maximum limits set by statute. All misdemeanor offenses are punishable by fines, court costs, community service, and/or probation (explained further below). Some misdemeanor offenses are also punishable by jail time and/or a driver's license suspension. The judge will have told the defendant the minimum and maximum limits that apply in their case at their initial appearance, as explained above. If the offense resulted in injury to another person, or damage to another person's property, the defendant may be required to make restitution (explained further below). If the sentence includes fines, court costs, and/or restitution, the judgment will state the specific amount. If the sentence includes community service, jail, probation, and/or a driver's license suspension, the judgment states a specific period of time for each.



Fines are due at time of sentencing, unless other arrangements have been made. If the defendant is unable to pay the fines at sentencing, they can ask the court for a later deadline. They can also ask for a monthly payment schedule. There is a $2.00 fee for each monthly payment, to cover the cost of the extra work for the court staff. The defendant can also ask the court to allow them to do community service instead of paying fines, which the court will approve in some circumstances.

Community Service

The judge sets a deadline to complete the community service hours, and the defendant is given instructions where to report to make arrangements. Community service must be completed through a court approved community service organization. there is a 60 cent per hour fee for community service which covers the cost of workmen's compensation insurance. The community service organization sends the court a written notice when the defendant completes their community service.


Restitution is the amount a defendant must pay to the victim of the defendant's crime, to cover the victim's costs for treatment of an injury, or to repair or replace property damaged by the defendant.

Deadlines for Payment & Community Service

In addition to deadlines for fines, court costs, restitution and community service, the judgment also includes a date and time for a review hearing. If the defendant does not meet the deadlines, they must appear at the review hearing and show good cause why the court should not hold them in contempt. If the judge decides that they did not have good cause, the judge may require them to pay fines and/or serve jail time for contempt.

The court is more likely to find good cause, and to allow an extension of the deadline, if they have paid a significant portion of the amount due or have completed a significant portion of the community service before the review hearing.


Jail time begins at sentencing and continues until the sentence is fully served or other arrangements have been made. The defendant can ask the judge to allow them to begin their jail term at a later time. In some counties, the judge will give them a specific date and time to report to jail. In other counties, they will be told to go to the jail to make arrangements to do their jail time. The extent to which their jail time will be scheduled around work or other important commitments may depend on available jail space. Once their jail time is scheduled, it will be rescheduled only upon proof of compelling reasons such as medical emergency or a death in the family. If they fail to report to jail at the scheduled times, a warrant will be issued for their arrest.

If the defendant has a job, they can ask the judge to allow work release. They will be required to obtain a letter from their employer stating the days and hours they work. They will be released from jail in time to go to work and will be required to report back to jail immediately after work. In most counties, there is a fee for each day of work release to cover the extra work for the jail staff. Permission for work release can be lost if they fail to return immediately after work, or if they violate jail rules.

In some counties, they can ask the court to allow them to do work crew instead of jail time. They will be told to go to the jail to make arrangements to work on the sheriff's work crew. They will be required to report to the jail on specific days and at specific times, and they will spend the day working on community service projects. The extent to which they work crew days will be scheduled around work or other important commitments and may depend on available work crew space. Once their work crew time is scheduled, it will be rescheduled only upon proof of compelling reasons, such as medical emergency or death in the family. Permission to do work crew will be lost if they fail to appear when scheduled or if they violate work crew rules. If they leave the work crew without permission from the supervising deputy, they can be charged with the crime of escape.


The court may place the defendant on probation for a specific period of time. If they are placed on probation, the court will suspend all or part of the fines or jail time. They do not have to pay suspended fines or serve suspended jail time if they comply with the conditions of probation.

Typical conditions that a court may impose in misdemeanor cases include a requirement that the defendant: not have any further misdemeanor or felony violations; complete anger management or conflict resolution education or counseling (typical in battery cases); have no contact with certain persons (typical in battery or stalking cases); complete drug or alcohol education or treatment (typical in drug or alcohol-related cases); submit to drug or alcohol testing, etc. Probation may be either supervised or unsupervised. Under supervised probation, the defendant must regularly meet with a probation officer. In some counties, if they are on supervised probation, they will be required to pay a monthly fee to help cover the costs of supervision.

If the defendant does not comply with the terms of probation, the prosecutor may file a motion asking the court to find that they have violated their probation. If the court finds they have violated probation, it may order them to pay all or part of the suspended fines or complete all or part of the suspended jail time. The court may also change the terms of their probation to include anything the court could have ordered at the original sentencing.

What Happens If the Defendant Doesn't Show Up for Court When They are Supposed to?

If the defendant does not appear for their initial appearance, they may be charged with an additional offense, commonly known as failure to appear (FTA). An FTA is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $300, plus court costs. If they are charged with an FTA, the court is likely to issue a warrant for their arrest.

If they fail to appear for proceedings scheduled by the court after their initial appearance, the court is likely to issue a warrant for their arrest. The defendant will be required to show good cause why the court should not hold them in contempt. If they are held in contempt, they may be required to pay fines and/or to serve time in jail.

A failure to appear results in a great deal of trouble both for the court and for the defendant. If they cannot appear at the scheduled time, they should contact their attorney/public defender or the court as soon as possible. If the defendant or their attorney/public defender contacts the court ahead of time and if they have good reason, the court may reschedule their case. If they do nto contact the court ahead of time, the court will require compelling reasons before it excuses a failure to appear.

This also applies to the victim if they have been subpoenaed to appear in court and fail to appear or have not contacted the courts prior to the court date.

Other Information

Please remember that a misdemeanor citation is a serious matter that is decided in a formal setting. Children should not be brought into a courtroom unless they are old enough to sit quietly and not disrupt the proceedings. Cell phones and pagers should be turned off while in the courtroom.

Please be patient. There may be a delay before yours and the defendant's case is called, and there are a variety of reasons why delays happen. It is often necessary to schedule several hearings for the same time, to make the most efficient use of court time (and taxpayer money). Sometimes a hearing scheduled earlier in the day takes longer than the court or the parties anticipated. Sometimes the court must deal with urgent matters (such as emergency child protection hearings) which take precedence over previously scheduled hearings.

Interpreters are available for participants in court proceedings who cannot speak, hear or understand the English language. If an interpreter is needed in your case, contact the court clerk's office prior to your first appearance in court.

It is illegal to bring weapons of any kind into a courthouse. Cameras, tape recorders and video recorders are not allowed in a courtroom without prior written approval of the judge.

Misdemeanor proceedings are open to the public and recorded. In any misdemeanor case you can ask for a copy of or a transcript of the proceedings at the court clerk's office. There is a fee for tapes and transcripts.

Community Service Numbers

Law Enforcement/Public Safety
ISU Public Safety 282-2515
Pocatello Police Department 234-6100
Bannock County Sheriff 236-7114
Advocacy Resources
ISU Project Hope Advocate Program
Crisis Line
Main Office
282-HOPE (4673)
or 2805
ISU Counseling & Testing 282-2130
Family Services Alliance of S.E. Idaho
Crisis Line/Shelter Services
Main Office
251-HELP (4357)
Bannock County Court Services 236-7083
Idaho Domestic Violence Legal Advice Line 1-877-500-2980
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)


Last Modified: 03/04/15 at 03:04:33 PM