The Commonwealth of Kentucky's judicial system handles criminal offenses according to the nature of the offense. For the most part, offenses are categorized as either misdemeanors or felonies. Offenses punishable by up to twelve months in jail, formally known as misdemeamors, are prosecuted by the local County Attorney. The most common misdemeanor offenses are DUI; theft by unlawful taking, less than $300; theft by deception, less than $300; resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and assault, 4th degree.

Offenses punishable by more than one year in prison are known as felonies. These matters are handled by the Commonwealth's Attorney. Some common felonies are possession of methamphetamine; manufacturing methamphetamine; possession of cocaine; trafficking in a controlled substance; arson; robbery; and theft by unlawful taking over $300.

Formal charges against a person are initiated in one of several ways. One common manner is the criminal complaint. For example, if your neighbor assaults you, you may contact the local county attorney about the matter who will have you to sign a sworn statement so that the neighbor can be prosecuted for the act. Obviously, another manner is that a police officer may arrest you if he has probable cause to believe that you have committed a criminal offense and he may issue a citation for conduct which he believes could constitute a criminal act. Occasionally, people are also charged with crimes when matters are submitted directly to the grand jury. This is known as a direct submission. Very infrequently, a person may also be charged with an offense when the Commonwealth proceeds by information. This method is rarely utilized.

After the Commonwealth has made a formal charge, the defendant faces arraignment, a stage in the process where the defendant makes his initial appearance before the Court where the identity is acknowledged, the charges are made known to him, and he is given an opportunity to plead thereto. Kentucky law recognizes five pleas: Not Guilty, Guilty, Guilty by Alford Plea, Conditional Plea of Guilty, and Guilty but Mentally Ill.

After the arraignment, normally the Court will set a date for a pretrial conference and a trial date. The pretrial conference is an opportunity for the parties to resolve any pretrial issues or negotiate a resolution to the matter. Also, at some point, the Commonwealth will make the evidence (also known as "discovery") available for inspection by the Defendant.


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