Aggressive, Compassionate, & Responsive Criminal Defense
DeKalb County is Georgia’s fourth most populous county, and is part of the Atlanta metro area. In addition to containing 10% of the City of Atlanta (the remaining 90% being located in Fulton County), it also contains within it a number of other cities. These include:
- Avondale Estates
- Pine Lake
- Stone Mountain
Each of these cities has its own municipal court, which hears city ordinance and misdemeanor cases that occur within the borders of those cities. Municipal court judges can only hold bench trials, meaning that the judge alone (and not a jury) hears evidence and ultimately decides the defendant’s guilt or innocence. If, however, a defendant wishes to have a jury trial on a state law violation, the case may be “bound over,” or transferred, to the DeKalb County State Court Jury Trial Division (not the Traffic Division). There can be other good reasons to bind a case over to state court, and you should discuss this with your Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer.
Not including these municipal courts, in the DeKalb County criminal justice system there are three courts that hear criminal cases – the Magistrate Court, the State Court (which includes a Traffic Division), and the Superior Court.
DeKalb County Magistrate Court
The Fulton County Magistrate Court holds three different types of hearings that are relevant in criminal matters: Midemeanor Warrant Hearings, First Appearance Hearings, and Preliminary Hearings. For more information about these hearings and where they fit in the grand scheme of a criminal case, click here. The Criminal Division of the DeKalb County Magistrate Court is located at 3630 Camp Circle, Decatur, GA 30032.
Misdemeanor Warrant Hearings
At a Misdemeanor Warrant, a private citizen can ask the magistrate court judge to issue an arrest warrant for another person. The citizen must first apply, providing the details of the offense, including where and when it occurred. The DeKalb County Magistrate Court strongly recommends that an individual file a complaint with the police department prior to seeking a warrant. It must have taken place in DeKalb County to be heard by the DeKalb County Magistrate Court, and (as the name suggests) it cannot be a felony offense. The judge will read a completed application and hear your sworn statement and, if he or she determines that there is probable cause for an arrest, a hearing is scheduled. At this hearing, both parties have the opportunity to present evidence and cross examine witnesses. If the judge believes that probable cause exists at the conclusion of this hearing, he or she may issue a warrant for anyone, including the applicant, the respondent, witnesses, or other individuals, whether or not they participated in the hearing.
First Appearance Hearings
It is important to remember that the judge will not consider dismissal of charges at a First Appearance Hearing. It is not a trial. At a First Appearance Hearing, the magistrate court judge does two things:
- Informs the arrested person of the charges he or she is facing, and
- Considers the issue of release.
For certain serious charges, magistrate court judges are not authorized to set bond. For those charges, bond must instead be set by a Superior Court judge. Read more about those charges here.
The Fulton County Magistrate Court holds First Appearance Hearings Mondays through Saturdays (including holidays). On Monday through Friday, misdemeanor hearings are held at 9 a.m. at the Fulton County Jail at 901 Rice Street, Atlanta, GA 30318 – Click here for a map. Felony First Appearance Hearings are also held at the Fulton County Jail, but at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. On weekends, all First Appearance Hearings (Felony and Misdemeanor) are held at 11 a.m. at the Fulton County Jail. On holidays, hearing times are set by the judge holding the hearing, so contact the jail at 404-613-2000 (or click here on a cell phone to call directly).
At a First Appearance Hearing, individuals will also be notified of their right to an attorney and informed about how to apply for a public defender if they are indigent.
At a Preliminary Hearing, the Magistrate Court judge determines whether he or she believes that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant being charged committed the offense for which he or she has been arrested. If the judge determines that probable cause does exist, the case is then “bound over,” or transferred, to the appropriate court (State Court for misdemeanor offenses, and Superior Court for felonies – read more about these courts below).
At a preliminary hearing, you have the right to have an attorney present with you. Witnesses testify before the judge, and your attorney gets the opportunity to cross examine them. This can be extremely helpful in later criminal court proceedings, because it gives your attorney an opportunity to learn more about what the State is alleging, and also forces witnesses to testify under oath so that, if their stories change later, that may be used against them. Learn more about what happens at a Preliminary Hearing here.
At preliminary hearings, Magistrate Court judges may also reconsider the issue of bond, which makes it all the more important that you hire a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer who can make a compelling argument on your behalf. Questions about Preliminary Hearings? Call me today.
Fulton County Superior Court
Fulton County State Court