While we specialize in federal criminal defense here in Atlanta, we also have significant experience in and take on cases assigned to the state court system of Georgia. Just like the federal system, Georgia has both trial courts and appellate courts. We are licensed to handle cases in each and every court within the State of Georgia.
As a general rule, State prosecutions are limited by geographic boundaries. At least a part of the state crime must happen within Georgia’s state lines in order to be prosecuted in a Georgia court. Besides geographic considerations, criminal defense attorneys handling Georgia matters also need to consider how a crime is defined. Up until 1968, some Georgia decisions held that, in addition to the crimes set out by statute, a prosecutor could bring a charge based on “common law” crimes. Now, however, no conduct can constitute a crime unless it is found in Title 16 of the Georgia Code, “or in another statute of this state.” Very few crimes are found anyplace other than in Title 16.
One big difference between state and federal criminal practice is whether a defendant can be released after posting bail. State court practice is more informal, and results in more defendants with resources to post bond being released. Federal practice is highly formalized and more tilted in favor of the prosecution, thus resulting in more defendants being held pending trial. Under state law, bail can be set for all offenses, except for a list of serious crimes described at O.C.G.A. §17-6-1. However, even for these serious crimes, bail can be set by a Superior Court Judge or any inferior judge to whom she delegates this authority. If the Defendant is not charged with one of these more serious crimes, bail is usually set by the arresting authority or at an initial appearance. For the more serious cases in which bail must be set by the Superior Court or his designee, a statute sets out the criteria for bond, the major factor being the probability that the accused will appear for trial.
Another big difference between Georgia state criminal matters and a criminal case brought in the federal courts concerns what we lawyers call “discovery”, sometimes referred to as evidence. In a State felony matter, a Defendant who “opts into” the discovery practice gets a list of witnesses with information that helps identify that witness. Upon request, the Defendant is entitled to any criminal history records on all witnesses for the prosecution. Most importantly, the prosecutor is obligated to hand over any statements made by a witness for the State in a Georgia criminal matter. The rule is quite different in federal court. First, a federal prosecutor has no obligation to identify his or her witnesses prior to trial. Second, the prior statements made by a prosecution witness need only be turned over once the prosecutor concludes his or her questioning. Finally, the concept of a “statement” is quite different in federal court, and it is not uncommon for State prosecutors to hand over far more material than would be the situation in a federal case.
A criminal case in the Georgia courts often begins at the Superior Court level. There are 159 counties in Georgia, and each county has its own Superior Court. These are the courts where more serious criminal cases involving felonies are brought. Some counties also have State Courts or Municipal Courts for handling misdemeanors and less serious crimes. We have handled matters arising all throughout Georgia, at just about every level .
An appeal from a Georgia case first usually goes to the Georgia Court of Appeals. After that, the matter will sometimes be heard in the Georgia Supreme Court. Each of these appellate courts is here in Atlanta, very close to our offices. We have significant experience and success in the Georgia appellate courts.
Feel free to call us today at (404) 588-3991, or contact us online to schedule an appointment for a consultation if you or a loved one is facing a criminal matter in the state courts of Georgia.