Keep Your Case in Municipal Court or Bind It Over to State or Superior Court?
Many traffic citations, DUI’s, and other misdemeanor crimes such as Shoplifting, Possession of Marijuana (Less than 1 oz.), and Criminal Trespass originate in the Municipal Court (or Probate Court) of whatever city where the alleged offense took place. These courts do not conduct jury trials and everyone charged with these State-level offenses has a Constitutional right to a jury trial. When one requests a jury trial, the Municipal Court will “bind over” the case to the State or Superior Court of the county of the alleged offense. For the counties that do not have a State Court, all criminal cases are handled in Superior Court. Prosecution is handled by the Solicitor General in State Court and the District Attorney in Superior Court.
There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to resolve a case in Municipal Court or State/Superior Court. Some Municipal Courts have one prosecutor and one full-time Judge, so it becomes more predictable what to expect from them. Municipal Court of Atlanta, however, has 9 full time Judges and even more prosecutors. So the negotiation process and plea offers can vary from courtroom to courtroom. You have to consider whether you’re more likely to get a good plea deal, pre-trial intervention (which avoids any convictions), or a fair trial in Municipal versus State/Superior Court. Plea offers and willingness to reduce charges can vary significantly between Courts, especially for DUI cases for persons with prior DUI convictions on their record. And just because you request a jury trial does not mean you cannot work out a plea deal in State/Superior Court if that turns out to be the best option.
If the case needs to be tried, the decision needs to be made as to where and what type of trial to have. One option is a bench trial in Municipal Court, where the Judge decides whether you’re guilty or not guilty. The other option is to have a jury trial or bench trial in State/Superior Court. When a case is bound over, you cannot control which prosecutor and Judge are assigned to the case.
Finally, a case might be bound over simply because the Solicitor General or District Attorney’s office might not bother to prosecute it. They receive cases from all the municipalities in their county, as well as the misdemeanors and felonies that originate in their court. A case that is important in Municipal Court might not be so important in State or Superior Court compared to the other cases they must handle. And for cases that bound over to the State Court of Fulton County, they might not be accused by the prosecution within the statute of limitations.