The criminal process in California depends upon a lot of factors, including the level of the offense charged (misdemeanor or felony), the nature of the criminal charges and other things. This is a brief explanation of generally what happens in felony cases:
ARRAIGNMENT • FIRST APPEARANCE
Your arraignment is your first appearance in court after you have been arrested or have been served with a “Notice to Appear.” The purpose of the arraignment is to formally advise you of the charges against you, advise you of your constitutional rights and request that you enter an initial plea to the charges. If the case is filed as a misdemeanor and you have an attorney, your attorney may appear for you, and you will not have to go to court. Your attorney will receive a copy of the formal, written complaint along with the police report and any other evidence that the prosecution has in their possession.
In most cases, if you are in custody at the time of the arraignment, the judge will set a bail amount at your arraignment. Your attorney can request a reduction in the amount of bail requested by the prosecutor and/or request that you be released on your own recognizance (“O/R”). Some factors a judge will consider include the following: flight risk, the length of time you have lived in the community, your prior record or lack of prior record, any past failures to appear in court, and the nature and severity of the charges against you.
If you were charged with a felony, a preliminary hearing will be held for the judge to decide if there is sufficient evidence to support the charges against you. The burden of proof is much lower than at trial (i.e. “beyond a reasonable doubt”), however, our office has had many cases were the charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence at the time of the preliminary hearing. Your attorney may present the case at the time of the preliminary hearing or, more often, may use the preliminary hearing to confront and cross-examine the key witnesses against you and lock down their testimony and determine the inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case based upon the testimony and evidence presented against you.
ARRAIGNMENT IN SUPERIOR COURT:
If you have been charged with a felony and the judge determines at the preliminary hearing that there is probable cause to support the charges against you, your case will be sent for trial to the Superior Court. You will then be arraigned on the “information” or “charging document” that will be filed by the prosecutor. The prosecutor may also file additional charges they believe were proven at the preliminary hearing. At this time, you are again formally advised of the charges against you, your constitutional rights and future court dates.
The pre-trial conference occurs after your arraignment. This is a hearing which allows your attorney to discuss a possible resolution of your case with the prosecutor and, sometimes, the judge. This may be the time that your attorney can negotiate the best possible plea agreement for you.
If a plea agreement is not reached, your case will be set for trial. A jury of twelve impartial individuals is selected to hear the evidence in your case. Both the prosecution and your attorney make opening statements to the jury, present evidence in the form of documents, witness testimony and other evidence, cross-examine the witnesses presented by the opposing party and make closing arguments. After closing arguments, the jury retires to deliberate. They must reach a unanimous decision, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty in order to convict you. If they are not able to reach a unanimous decision, the judge may declare a mistrial, in which case the prosecution may or may not choose to re-file the charges. If your case goes to trial, it is crucial that you have an aggressive and competent attorney who has conducted investigation and presents all evidence in your favor, including favorable witnesses. It is only through such preparation that you have your best opportunity for an “acquittal” (verdict of “not guilty”).
If a person either pleads guilty or is found guilty following trial, the case is set for sentencing. The purpose of the sentencing hearing is for the judge to determine the appropriate punishment for the crime. In some cases, your attorney will make legal arguments as to why you should receive the least, possible penalty under the law.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER SENTENCING:
In some cases, after a defendant either pleads guilty or is found guilty following trial, they may have certain options, including the following:
- Motion To Withdraw a Guilty Plea or a Motion for a New Trial: These motions are determined on a case by case basis. A motion to withdraw a guilty plea is made based upon an allegation that the plea was not “knowingly” and/or “voluntarily” entered into. A motion for new trial can be made on numerous bases, including lack of evidence or improper conduct on the part of the prosecution in presenting or withholding evidence. Both motions attempt to set aside the conviction.
- Appeal: If your attorney can prove that you were denied due process of law or that the trial court made a legal error, you may be entitled to appeal the decision to a higher court. Your attorney would request a transcript of the trial court proceedings which resulted in your conviction, prepare a “brief” or written summary of legal arguments to overturn your conviction, and argue these before one or more appellate court judges.
- Modification of Sentence: In some cases, if you are placed on probation, you may come back before the sentencing judge and ask for a modification of your sentence (i.e. one or more of the terms and conditions of your probation).
- Expungement: In some cases, after you have successfully completed the terms and conditions of your probation, you may come before the court and ask that the conviction be expunged from your record.
Read more about the criminal process in the following blog posts:
- California Parole & Probation Violations
- Parole in California
- LA County Probation Violations
- Civil Compromise in California Criminal Cases
- Can Silence be Used Against You?
- Police Search of Cell Phones
- Federal Sentencing in Criminal Cases
- CA Criminal Law on Remaining Silent
- Challenging the Validity of a Search Warrant in California
- Challenging the Illegal Search of a Vehicle in California
- The Amanda Bynes Case: Example of the Difficulty in Proving Mental Incompetence to Stand Trial Under CA Criminal Law
- How Can a CA Defendant Serve his Prison Time in County Jail?
- Three Strikes Cases in California
- What Are My Options After a Criminal Conviction in California?
THE CRIMINAL PROCESS IS COMPLICATED! YOU NEED AN AGGRESSIVE AND COMPETENT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY TO GUIDE YOU THROUGH THIS PROCESS AND OBTAIN THE BEST RESULT FOR YOU. IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, CALL US: 1-844-210-1701 .