District Court handles all misdemeanors and traffic violation cases that have been investigated by the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, the Alabama Department of Public Safety, and other various state agencies. District Court is also the initial courtroom phase for all felony cases that have not been indicted by a Grand Jury.
A defendant can plead guilty to any type case in District Court, but only misdemeanor and traffic cases can be tried there. All trials in District Court are called bench trials and are heard by a Judge with no jury.
Felony cases must first be indicted by a Grand Jury before they can proceed to trial. However, a defendant charged with a felony can request a preliminary hearing in District Court. In this hearing the Judge determines if the State’s evidence is sufficient to show that a crime was committed and that the defendant probably committed the crime. This is called probable cause. If the Judge finds that probable cause exists, the case is then bound over to the Grand Jury. If probable cause is not found, the case is dismissed. Many defendants charged with felonies choose to waive their right to a preliminary hearing, and the case goes on to the Grand Jury for consideration.