A police officer issued you a ticket, formally called a Notice to Appear and Complaint. This complaint outlines the charge(s) alleged against you. On the left side of the ticket, the officer assigned a date for your appearance in Columbus City Court. You are expected to appear on this date. Failure to appear may result in the suspension of your driver’s license and/or a warrant may be issued for your arrest. If the assigned date is inconvenient or you would like to schedule an earlier court date, please call the Court Clerk (406-322-5313 ext 200) to see if you are able to reschedule. Please note that the Court only holds hearings on citations on Tuesdays at 3:00pm.
Going to Court
Columbus City Court is located at 408 E 1st Ave N on the second floor of the City Hall building.
When you appear, please check in with the Court Clerk immediately upon your arrival. The Court usually sees cases on a first-come, first-serve basis. Please arrive a few minutes early to fill out paperwork.
Do not bring weapons of any kind to court.
Turn off cell phones and other electronic devices.
Remove your hats.
Please do not bring young children.
When in the courtroom, please sit quietly and wait for your turn to be called. When the Judge calls your name, approach the table. Only you, and/or counsel may approach to speak to the Judge. If you are under 18 years old, you MUST bring a parent or legal guardian with you.
Your first appearance in court is commonly called an Initial Appearance. This is the time when you are informed of the charge(s) against you. This is when you are also given the opportunity to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. This is not the time for you to bring evidence or witnesses to testify.
All criminal cases filed in Columbus City Court are misdemeanors. Most misdemeanors are an offense punishable by or no more than 1 year in jail and no more than a $1,000 fine. The Judge will inform you of the minimum and maximum penalties for you specific charge(s) when you appear in court.
Entering a Plea
You have the right to consult an attorney before entering a plea. The Court may appoint an attorney for you if you cannot afford one and you could receive a jail sentence if convicted. The Judge will ask you how you would like to plead. You have the following options:
Not Guilty – You are denying the allegation of the charge. You do not explain any of the circumstances to the Judge at this time. The Court will set a date to return for an Omnibus Hearing.
Guilty – You are admitting guilt. After being sworn in, you will be allowed to explain the circumstances and say what it is that makes you guilty. The Judge will usually sentence you immediately unless he requires additional information.
Pleading Not Guilty
After pleading Not Guilty, you will return for an Omnibus Hearing approximately one month after your Initial Appearance. You (and your attorney if you have one) must be present for this hearing. At this hearing, the Prosecution will tell the Court whether they have provided all the evidence to the Defense and vice versa. You will decide if you would like a Jury Trial or a Judge Trial. The Pre-Trial Hearing and Trial dates will be set.
Jury Trial – A Jury Trial consists of 6 residents of the city chosen at random. All 6 jurors must agree if you are guilty or not guilty. If you are found guilty, the Court may assess jury costs and witness fees against the Defendant.
Bench Trial – Also known as a Judge Trial, this trial is before the Judge and not a jury. The Judge will determine whether you are guilty or not guilty.
In both a Jury and Bench Trial, the verdict must be based upon a finding of a guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
After pleading guilty or being found guilty, you will be sentenced by the Judge. Possible sentencing options are as follows:
Fines and Other Payments – If you need to make monthly payments toward your fine, the Judge will set up a Time Pay Agreement with you at sentencing. Payments are due by the 10th of every month. The Court accepts cash, check, cashier’s check and money order. We can also take Visa, MasterCard, and Discover credit/debit cards. If you ever have trouble making these payments, contact the Court as soon as possible. You may also work off a fine on community ser vice. Failure to make payments may result in suspension of your driver’s license and a warrant being issued for your arrest. The Judge may order Public Defender fees. If you were incarcerated, you may be given credit for time served. The Judge also may suspend a portion of your fine.
Jail/Incarceration – The Judge may sentence you to serve time in jail. In lieu of jail time, you may be sentenced to serve in the Sheriff’s Labor Detail. If the Judge gives you an incarceration sentence, he may choose to suspend it on certain conditions. If these conditions are met, no detention would be served. This charge will go on your criminal record. If these conditions are not met, the City may petition the Court to revoke the suspended sentence and ask that you serve out a portion or the entire jail sentence. You would first be entitled to a hearing.
Additional Sentence Mandates – Depending on your charge, you may also be sentenced to Community Service, MIP class, ACT/Prime for Life, fingerprinting, SCRAM, UAs, etc. Other mandates may include forfeiture of your license plates, vehicle registration, or driver’s license.
Deferred sentence – The Judge may give you a period of time to complete certain conditions prior to imposition of sentence. If the conditions are met and the paperwork is filed with the Court, the charge will be dismissed, the case sealed, and will not be reported to the Department of Justice. If the conditions are not met, the City may petition the Court to revoke the deferral and full sentencing could take place.