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Going to Court: What Will Happen?

What is an arraignment?

What do I say when the judge asks me to enter a plea?

What will my sentence be?

What are the maximum sentences associated with misdemeanors?


What is an Arraignment?

There are several steps in the court process. The first step after being arrested is the arraignment. An arraignment is your first court date after your arrest or citation, which will usually happen within 48 hours of the incident. The primary function of the arraignment is to enter a plea. This is not the time to tell the judge your story.

When: The time and date for your arraignment will be listed on the citation. The actual time appearing before the judge will be 5-10 minutes. Be sure to allow at least 2 hours for the whole process, since you may have to wait a long time to appear before the judge, depending on how many others have their arraignment at the same time.

Where: The Athens City Municipal Court is located across from the parking garage in the city building. The municipal clerk and court room are both located on the second floor.

What Happens: When you arrive, present your citation to the municipal clerk`s office. They will file the citation and present you with a copy before you enter the court room. Then you will be asked to wait in the court room until the judge calls your name. You will be waiting in the court room with all other individuals who have their arraignment scheduled at the same time. When your name is called, approach the court standing on the left side. The judge will ask you if you understand the charges. The judge will then read the charges and ask you to enter a plea.

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What do I say when the judge asks me to enter a plea?

There are three options: “not guilty”, “no contest” and “guilty”.

Not Guilty: A not guilty plea means that you not want to give up any of your constitutional rights at this time and your court case will be scheduled for a later date. At the next court date, the prosecution will have to prove you are guilty as to each and every element of the offense charged against you beyond a reasonable doubt. You will be able to subpoena witnesses in your defense at the trial.

Pleading not guilty gives you time to explore your options and seek legal counsel. IF YOU ARE NOT SURE, PLEAD NOT GUILTY. The judge will set a later court date for you to appear. This provides time for you to speak with one of our attorneys. This also provides time to deal with individual circumstances and finding possible defenses. Pleading not guilty does not have any impact on the final outcome of your case, it simply moves your case back to a later date so you have time to seek counsel. Many students call and ask, “Why should I plead not guilty if I know I’m guilty? Isn’t that lying to the court?” No. You are simply having your case moved to a later date so you have time to seek help.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You should always plead NOT GUILTY to a drug offense. Being convicted of a drug charge can jeopardize your financial aid, among other things. An attorney may be able to get you a lower penalty.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you were cited with an underage alcohol charge, false ID, disorderly conduct by intoxication for the FIRST time, you may be offered the Diversion Program instead of being asked to enter a plea. From the City of Athens Diversion Program website.

“The Athens County Municipal Court’s Underage Drinker’s Diversion Program is a ninety day program designed as an alternative to criminal prosecution for first time offenders. The eligible charges for this program are Underage Consumption of Alcohol, Underage Possession of Alcohol, False ID, and Disorderly Conduct by Intoxication. The benefits of the program are that no plea is taken and, at the successful finish of all elements of diversion, the case is dismissed and the record expunged.

The elements of the program are twelve hours of community service, a three hour alcohol class such as is offered in Athens County (or its equivalent elsewhere), the reading of Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood and answering six questions based on that reading, payment of the fee and costs ($319) and a 90 day period of good behavior. “

Read more at the City of Athens Diversion Program Website.

*Our advice is to sign up for the Diversion Program and if you have questions or you are unsure if it is the right thing for your individual circumstances, make an appointment to speak to one of our attorneys and they will help you decide. You can always withdraw from the Diversion Program later if you need to.


No Contest: A no contest plea does not admit your guilt, but does admit the truth of the facts alleged in the complaint against you. Both you and the prosecutor will be permitted to make statements and then you will be found either guilty or not guilty depending on the evidence. If the facts which you do not dispute meet all the elements of the offense which you are charged with, the judge will find you guilty and you will be sentenced. A no contest plea cannot be used against you in a later civil or criminal case.

Pleading no contest does not give you an opportunity to seek legal counsel, and if the judge finds you guilty he could impose the maximum sentence.

Guilty: A guilty plea is a complete admission of your guilt as to the charge(s) against you. You will be permitted to make a statement explaining any justification before the judge imposes the sentence.

Pleading guilty means the judge will sentence you immediately and you will not have an opportunity to seek legal counsel. The judge could impose the maximum sentence.

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What will my sentence be?

In determining your sentence, the court will consider the following: your prior criminal record, the risk that you will commit another offense, the nature and circumstances of the current offense, (i.e., violence vs no violence) and statements made by any victim. You can “work off” any fine through community service, but not court costs. We recommend you talk to one of our attorneys so they can work on a defense and make sure you get the best outcome possible for your particular issue.

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What are the maximum sentences associated with misdemeanors?

There are several levels of misdemeanor offenses and each carries with it a different maximum fine and possible jail time. The misdemeanor that is committed will correspond with one of the following categories. (See Chart) If you are found guilty, the judge can give the maximum sentence. The judge also has the right to suspend or add any condition to the sentence; such as community service or being a law abiding citizen for one or more years.

Misdemeanor Possible Jail Fine
1st Degree Six Months $1000
2nd Degree 90 Days $750
3rd Degree 60 Days $500
4th Degree 30 Days $250
Minor Misdemeanor No Jail $150

See our Criminal Offenses and Penalties page for more information.

Charges that involve driving under a suspended license, drugs, and driving under the influence nearly always receive the maximum sentence under each classification. Along with this almost every Ohio drug offense is also punishable by mandatory license suspension of anywhere from six months to three years, even if a vehicle is not included in the offense.

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This information does not constitute legal advice, nor is it intended as a substitute for legal advice.