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The 4th Judicial District

Understanding

District Court

for

Criminal, Traffic, and Fish & Game

If you're like most people, this is probably the first time you have ever come in contact with the criminal justice system.

This brochure is designed to help you understand court procedures and to make you aware of your rights and duties.

First, we should explain that District Court is part of the judicial branch of state government. Traffic violations, fish & game violations, juvenile cases, and criminal violations of state statutes are handled in this court. Appeals from municipal courts are also handled by District Court.

Trials are conducted under the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Kansas Rules of Evidence as adopted by the Kansas Legislature.

Bringing a Case to Trial

Under Kansas law, a person can be brought to trial only after a complaint or traffic citation has been filed. The complaint or citation is a document that outlines what the person is supposed to have done and states that the actions are unlawful. The person charged is referred to as the "defendant."

You, as a defendant, have the right to inspect the complaint or citation before trial and have it read to you.

Jury trials cannot be held for traffic infraction violations. Jury trials for misdemeanor cases are tried to a 6-person panel and felony cases are tried to a 12-person panel.

Arraignment

Arraignment is the term used for the time the defendant appears in court to enter a plea. At the time a traffic or fish and game citation is issued, there is a date on the bottom of the citation for you to either pay the ticket by that date or enter a plea of not guilty. An arraignment will be scheduled by the officer a minimum of five days from the date of the charge. Most traffic citations do not require an appearance in court. If you desire, you can pay the citations by mail.

On a criminal or juvenile complaint, a summons will probably be issued giving you a date to appear. Occasionally a warrant will be issued. When you bond out of jail, the bond will state the date you are to appear in court.

On criminal felony cases, the arraignment does not occur until a preliminary hearing has been held or is waived and the defendant is bound over for arraignment.

Many people may be appearing for arraignment at the same time. Though a judge tries to proceed as quickly and efficiently as possible, things sometimes get delayed. You should appear at the time that is stated on your ticket, summons, or appearance bond.

At the arraignment, you will be given an opportunity to enter a plea. (Signing a citation in front of an officer does not mean you plead guilty. It means only that you promise to appear in court by that date or pay your traffic citation by that date.) The officers do have fine schedules to which they can refer and enter the amount due on the back of your copy of the citation. If they do not have a fine schedule for your violation, you must contact the court to obtain the amount of your fine. Some violations require that you must appear before the judge. Whether you plead guilty and pay the citation by mail or come to court, Kansas statute assesses court costs or a docketing fee for each traffic case that it filed.

You may enter one of three pleas: guilty, no contest (nolo contendere), or not guilty.

The Right to An Attorney

In all cases, you have a right to representation by an attorney. When charged with an offense that may result in jail time as part of the sentence, you must decide whether to proceed with or without an attorney. If you decide to proceed without an attorney, you must sign a written waiver waiving your right to counsel. If you want an attorney, and a judge finds you do not have the financial means to hire one, one will be appointed. You have no choice in the selection of a court-appointed attorney.

If you are less than 18 years old, a parent should be present and, in some cases, will be required to attend your court hearings.

If an attorney is appointed to represent you and you plead guilty, no contest, or are found guilty by the court, attorney fees may be assessed against you.

Pleading Guilty

Guilty means you admit to committing the act charged, that the act is prohibited by law, and that you have no defense for the act.

Some people, when pleading guilty, want to explain extenuating circumstances surrounding a charge. A judge may take these mitigating circumstances into consideration when ordering fines or jail time.

 
What you should know before entering a plea of guilty:
  • You are presumed innocent.
  • The State has the burden of proving its case against you. You have the right to hear the State's evidence and to require it to prove its case. The law does not require you to prove anything.
  • A guilty plea will be seen as an admission that you were at fault or responsible for the violation.

Pleading No Contest

A plea of "no contest" (nolo contendere) simply means you do not wish to contest the State's charge. Upon a plea of no contest, the judge will enter a finding of guilty and order a fine, jail time, or other appropriate sentence. A plea of no contest is not an admission of a fault and can't be used against you in a civil suit for damages.

Pleading Not Guilty

A plea of "not guilty" means you deny guilt and that the State must prove its charges against you. Under our American system of justice, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. On a plea of not guilty, a trial is scheduled at a later date. The State will subpoena any witnesses they have in your case and you have a right to subpoena witnesses to testify on your behalf. The State is required to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" all of the allegations against you in the complaint.

The Trial

A prosecutor will call witnesses to testify against you.

After each prosecution witness testifies, you have a right to cross-examine each witness. Your cross examination must be in the form of questions; you are not allowed to argue with a witness. This is not the time for you to tell your side of the story. That opportunity comes later in the trial.

You have the right:

To have the court issue subpoenas for witnesses to ensure their appearance at trial. However, you must furnish names, addresses and telephone numbers of these witnesses to the court as quickly as possible so they can be located and subpoenas served.

To testify and a constitutional right not to testify. Choosing not to testify will not be used against you in determining guilt or innocence. However, if you do testify, the prosecutor has a right to cross-examine you.

 
Anyone appearing in Court is required to obey the following rules:
  • Clothing must include a shirt, pants or skirt, and shoes.
  • No hats or caps may be worn in the courtroom.
  • While in session, talking is not allowed, except with authorized court personnel or quietly with your attorney.

The Verdict

The judge's verdict is based on the state statute involved, the testimony, and facts presented during the trial. In making a determination, the judge can only consider the testimony of the witnesses who are under an oath.

If you are found guilty, the penalty will be announced either at that time or after a pre-sentence investigation. Pre-sentence investigations are normally requested when some type of psychological, alcohol or drug evaluation, or prior criminal history is needed prior to sentencing.

Fines and Fees

The amount of the fine assessed by the court is affected by the facts and circumstances of the case. Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine, even if you are guilty. Aggravating circumstances may increase the fine. The fines for traffic infractions are set by the Kansas Legislature but may be changed by a judge if an infraction is taken to trial.

If you are found guilty, court costs are added to the initial fine. There may be other fees assessed as well.

If you cannot afford to pay the amounts assessed against you, you may request of the judge that he allow you time to pay. The judge will probably ask you how much time you need and set a show cause hearing date for you to either pay the matter in full or appear in court to explain why the amounts due have not been paid.

If you fail to appear for a show cause hearing, the judge may order a bench warrant to be issued for your arrest. The matter may also be turned over to a collection agency which will result in additional monies being owed by you.

If you are convicted of a DUI and are required to use a steering wheel locking device, that cost is assessed to you.

Probation

Probation is a conditional release granted to a defendant following a conviction. During your probation, a jail sentence or prison sentence will be suspended by the court depending upon your successful completion of your probation. There are two types of probation: supervised and unsupervised.

Supervised probation is where you will have a probation officer who will work with you on your case. There is a probation fee charge that you are required to pay. They will require that you sign conditions of probation and those conditions are then approved by the judge who heard your case. The probation officer will require you to make office visits and will monitor your payments to the court.

As a condition of some probations, you may be required to submit to urinalysis testing or obtaining evaluations, such as psychological or drug and alcohol. These items are at your expense.

Unsupervised probation is where you are not really supervised by anyone except the court and the county attorney's office.

If you do not abide by the conditions set out in your probation, you will be taken back to court to pay any amounts due or serve any jail time originally ordered.

Parole

Parole is the early release of a defendant convicted of a crime who has already served a portion of a jail term. As in probation, you will be supervised by a parole officer and must meet certain conditions.

The Appeal

Anyone found guilty in district court has a right to appeal the conviction. An appeal from a district magistrate judge will be heard by a district judge of the district court. An appeal from a district judge is to the Court of Appeals in Topeka.

You have 10 days after the conviction of a district magistrate judge to file a "Notice of Appeal."

An appeal from a magistrate judge will be a trial "de novo" before a district judge, a whole new trial as if the trial to the magistrate judge had never taken place. It may take some time for the matter to be heard by a district judge.

You may be required to post an appeal bond. If you fail to appear at that time or at any other time during the course of the appeal, your appearance bond will be forfeited and the sentence imposed by the magistrate judge will be enforced.

 
Remember:
  • The citizen is not always right; that is why we have officers.
  • The officer is not always right; that is why we have courts.
  • The court is not always right; that is why you have a right to appeal.

Expunging A Conviction

If you are convicted of a crime in district court, you may petition for expungement. This means the conviction will be considered "erased", and the public will not have access to the information, except in certain situations.

You can petition for expungement for most state statute convictions after three years if you have satisfied the sentence imposed, or were discharged from probation, parole, conditional release, or a suspended sentence.

The time for expungement may be longer for other convictions.

Once you have petitioned for expungement, the court will set a hearing date and send a notice to the prosecutor. Anyone who has relevant information about you may testify at the hearing. The prosecutor will look into your background to see if there have been any subsequent convictions and present its findings to the court.

At the hearing, your conviction may be expunged if the Court finds:

Once an order of expungement is issued, you will be treated as though you were never convicted of a crime, unless:

Do All Cases Go to Trial?

Many criminal, juvenile and traffic cases are concluded without a trial. A case may be disposed of without a trial through a plea agreement or diversion program.

Plea Agreement

Under a plea agreement, you agree to plead guilty or no contest to certain charges, and the prosecutor agrees to ask the court to dismiss others. Sometimes, a prosecutor may amend the complaint to a lesser charge or be more lenient on sentencing recommendations if you agree to plead guilty.

Plea negotiations cannot be initiated by the prosecutor. The prosecutor has no obligation to discuss or negotiate your case. In plea negotiations, a prosecutor will consider the effect of the criminal offense on the victim, your criminal history, and the seriousness of the crime.

Please remember that a plea agreement is made with the prosecutor. The judge is not bound by the plea negotiations and may reject any agreements.

Diversion

In some cases, a prosecutor, if you are qualified and apply, may decide to place you in a diversion program instead of proceeding with a trial.

In a diversion, you enter into a contract to comply with certain conditions and to be supervised by the county attorney for a period of time. Other conditions of a diversion may include attending classes (e.g., substance abuse, anger control, etc.), counseling, restitution, or a no-contact order with the victim(s).

When entering into a diversion contract -

By agreeing to these conditions, you give up your rights to a speedy trial, to confront witnesses, and to present evidence.

However, if you successfully complete all of the conditions in the agreement, the charges will be dismissed.

If you fail to meet a condition, the diversion may be terminated, the charges immediately reinstated, and a trial held.

Diversions are usually for first-time offenders and those who do not appear likely to engage in further criminal conduct.

Remember:
Plea agreements and diversions are solely at the prosecutor's discretion. They are a privilege, not a right. In most cases, the prosecutor will consult with the victim prior to entering into a plea agreement or diversion contract.

Recovering Financial Losses

Often a crime means a financial loss for the victim. Perhaps you had property damage, medical expenses, or a loss of income because you were unable to work. You may be entitled to restitution by the defendant. The prosecutor's office may request proof of damages.

Where to Call

We hope this handbook has answered some of your questions about district court. If we can be of further assistance, please call the court where your case is filed. If you are a victim in a case, please contact the prosecutor in the county where the crime occurred.

The court calendars are posted in the courts of each county and also on the district-wide web page at: http://www.franklincoks.org/4thdistrict/index.html .