What to Expect on my Court Date
When visiting the Northport Municipal Court for your court proceedings you should dress appropriately. Please read over the Courtroom Code of Conduct information before your court date.
A defendant who has been found guilty in municipal court may appeal the decision. The judge will advise a convicted person of the right to an appeal and that written notice must be filed with the municipal court within 14 days of the conviction date. A mere oral statement of a desire to appeal is insufficient; the notice must be in writing and an appeal bond must be filed within 14 days.
The judge will set the appeal bond amount, which by law cannot exceed two times the total fines and costs or the $1,000 if no fine and court costs are assessed. Once a case is appealed, the case is then transferred to the circuit court for the county in which the offense occurred and the entire case is heard anew (de novo).
Court Attorneys - Right to Representation
Criminal defendants have the right to be represented by counsel. For defendants who can afford their own counsel, the city is not obligated to provide an attorney. If the defendant is not financially able to employ counsel (indigent), the municipal judge must appoint counsel to represent any defendant who is charged with an offense punishable by a jail sentence.
The judge must determine if a defendant is indigent. In order for the judge to make this determination, the defendant must complete a sworn Affidavit of Indigency. This affidavit contains various questions regarding the defendant's income, expenses, and financial resources. As a sworn statement, all information on the form must be truthful. It is a felony to falsify a sworn statement. If the judge decides the defendant is indigent, the court will appoint an attorney for the defendant.
For non-indigent defendants, the court cannot recommend attorneys.
Municipal Courts in Alabama do not hold jury trials. The constitutional right to a jury trial is protected by the defendant's right to appeal de novo to the circuit court of the county where the offense occurred.
Trial Setting & Procedure
If a case is set for trial, both the city and the defendant are entitled to subpoena witnesses. If the defendant wishes to have a subpoena issued, the defendant and or defense attorney must submit a subpoena request form to the court at least 14 days in advance of the trial date.
Alabama law requires that all trials in municipal court be handled by a judge, not a jury. However, if you are found guilty and wish to appeal the decision you may request a jury trial in circuit court.
Basic Trial Procedure
- The case is called before the judge.
- The defendant is informed of his/her charges.
- Testimony is given and witnesses are questioned.
- Evidence is presented.
- The judge makes a ruling of guilty or not guilty.
- If not guilty, the defendant is released and no fines or costs are assessed.
- If found guilty, appropriate fines, costs, and sentences are imposed.
Not Guilty Plea
If you entered a plea of not guilty, you will be set for a trial court date. During your trial date, you will speak with the prosecutor. The prosecutor, at his/her sole discretion, may offer a plea agreement or recommend the defendant for a pre-trial diversion program. Any such agreement will need to be approved by the judge in order to become effective.
If the prosecutor does not offer an alternative agreement, or if the defendant does not accept an agreement offered by the prosecutor, the trial will proceed as scheduled.
When a defendant commits a crime while under the age of 21, the Alabama Code provides that the judge may, in lieu of trying a defendant as an adult, instead adjudicate the defendant as a youthful offender. Youthful offender adjudications are not criminal convictions, and records regarding youthful offender adjudications are sealed.
In some circumstances, the judge is obliged to inform the defendant of his right to apply for youthful offender status. In other circumstances, the burden is on the defendant to request youthful offender status. The decision to grant youthful offender rests solely upon the judge.
Missed Court Date - Failure to Appear
Missing your court date, even for something as minor as a seatbelt ticket, can carry various and severe consequences. Failing to appear on your court date is in itself a criminal charge for which you can be arrested. Failure to appear letters will be mailed out to the last known address on file. You will be given another court date. If you fail to appear on your second scheduled date, a writ will be issued for your arrest.
If you have failed to appear in court on a traffic offense, the court will notify the Alabama Department of Public Safety (DPS). DPS will then place a suspension on the driver's license of the defendant until the original charges are resolved.
If you have placed a bond to get out of jail, your bond may be forfeited if you fail to appear.
If you have failed to appear, you may appear in open court on a Wednesday at 1 pm or Friday at 8:30 am The warrant will be recalled, the case pulled, and given to court personnel for disposition.