The Trial Division has responsibility for the prosecution and disposition of felony cases which have been formally charged and assigned to a Superior Court judge and which are not handled by one of the specialized units. Trial teams are composed of prosecutors, investigators, victim advocates and legal assistants. Trial teams are assigned to one of three sections: Non-Complex, Standard and Complex.
Assistant District Attorneys assigned to Non-Complex are responsible for the prosecution of non-violent, lower level felony offenses including drugs, theft and weapons charges. These cases are “fast-tracked” through the criminal justice process, with the goal of no more than 63 days between arrest and final disposition. These cases are heard by three magistrate judges.
Burglaries and Aggravated Assaults are handled by the assistant district attorneys assigned to the Standard Track. Approximately one-half of the Aggravated Assaults involve cases of domestic violence. As with the Non-Complex cases, those within the Standard Track are also expedited, with the goal of no more than 180 days between arrest and final disposition. These cases are heard by two Superior Court judges and a magistrate.
The remaining cases are handled by the Complex prosecutors. These cases range from Terroristic Threats to Armed Robbery. These cases are heard by fourteen Superior Court judges.
Aside from the aforementioned trial sections, Trial Division prosecutors are also assigned to the two specialty courts: Drug Court and Mental Health Court. Admittance to both courts is by referral based on the defendant’s current offense, criminal history and program assessment. In lieu of prosecution, defendants who are accepted into these programs receive supportive services in hopes that the underlying drug or mental health issues that drive criminal behavior can be addressed.
The disposition process in Superior Court is as follows:
, the next court date is set.
Plea and Arraignment: At this hearing, a number
First Appearance Hearing: The purpose of this hearing is to establish that there is enough evidence to proceed with prosecution. Additionally, a number of procedural issues are handled including a determination of indigence, the appointment of defense counsel, a determination of the appropriate case track (Non-Complex, Standard, Complex), a determination of bond and the next scheduled court appearance.
All Purpose Hearing: At this hearing, a number of case management-related issues are resolved. If needed, preliminary hearings are held. A preliminary hearing is an evidentiary hearing best described as a “trial before the trial” at which the judge decides at a more in-depth level whether there is enough evidence to proceed with prosecution. Preliminary hearings occur if the defendant has not been formally charged but is still being held in jail. Additionally, if the defendant is subject to probation revocation, s(he) is given notice. For defendants remaining in jail, bond and release recommendations are reviewed. Negotiated pleas and non negotiated pleas are also taken. Finally, for cases continuing of case management-related issues are resolved. The defense counsel is verified or appointed; release considerations are reviewed; discovery requests (defense) are filed and served (prosecutors); and non-negotiated and negotiated pleas are accepted. For cases continuing, the next court date is set.
Pre-Trial Conference: At this hearing, non-negotiated and negotiated pleas are accepted; discovery requests are filed and served; the next court date is set.
Motions Hearings: At this hearing, evidence suppression matters are heard; jury challenges are heard and ruled upon; non-negotiated and negotiated pleas are accepted.
Trial: This is the final stage of the criminal justice process. Evidence is presented to a jury (jury trial) or to the judge (bench trial).
* In a negotiated guilty plea, the District Attorney and the defense attorney agree to a sentence which they propose to the Judge. The Judge may or may not accept the proposed sentence. A non-negotiated plea is one for which the District Attorney and defense attorney have not reached an agreement. In a non-negotiated plea, the defendant appears before the Judge and the Judge determines the sentence.