The California Criminal Court Process
The California criminal justice system is very complex and frought with many complicated and arcane rules and procedures. For the inexperienced, the consequences of trying to defend yourself can be quite devastating. However, an experienced lawyer who knows the rules and codes can use the system to the client's advantage and arrive at a Just outcome.
When you are arrested on Criminal Charges you need to choose a qualified California Criminal Defense Attorney quickly. A competent and skilled Criminal Defense Attorney will be able to evaluate your situation and set an effective strategy to get you the Best Defense possible. Criminal Defense Attorney and local Lawyer Matthew J. Ruff can answer your questions about Criminal law and Criminal Defense cases. You need a Lawyer on your side!
TYPES OF CRIMES:
Felony - is a crime punishable by one year or more in State Prison. Felony cases begin in lower courts and then can be bound over to Superior Court if the judge determines that probable cause exists that the defendant being accused has committed the crime in question.Misdemeanor - is a crime punishable by up to a year in county jail. Misdemeanors are usually handled in lower courts and never go to Superior Court.
RETAINING AN ATTORNEY
A defendant may retain a criminal defense attorney at any stage of their case, whether it is during the investigation or the night before their arraignment, a Lawyer can help you.
Pre-arrest investigations are done after the defendant has been contacted by a law enforcement agency, however charges have not been filed yet and the defendant has not been arrested.
This is the best time to hire a criminal defense attorney to take control and defend the case. During this stage, a Lawyer can attempt to do the following:
Prevent filing of charges (The Lawyer convinces the DA or City Prosecutor to drop the charge).
Reduce charges. ( The Lawyer negotiates with the D.A. or City Attorney)
Assist with surrender and avoid arrest.(The Lawyer can go to Court for the client)
Divert allegations into an informal resolution. (This means attend a class or perform community service to earn a dismissal)
Felonies - Police must have PROBABLE CAUSE to make an arrest, which may be conceptualized as a "good reason" to arrest.
Misdemeanors - Arrests can only be made for crimes that occurred while in the presence of the arresting person or with a warrant.
Miranda Warnings - Police do not have to read Miranda Warnings to everyone that is arrested. Failure to read the Miranda Warnings does not make the arrest illegal, but may be grounds to suppress certain statements or confessions. A criminal defense attorney should always be consulted prior to any statements to Police.
When a suspect is booked the following occurs:
The suspect is taken to the law enforcement station.
They are asked a series of routine questions.
They are lawfully searched with or without consent.
The suspect is fingerprinted and photographed. (This information is sent to the California Justice System Database)
All felony defendants and most misdemeanor defendants will be required to go to the station for booking. Having a criminal defense attorney at this stage will benefit the arrested person in that police interrogation can be avoided and an immediate release can be obtained.
Getting booking information:
Call the jail or prison hotline for booking information. (Determine where the person is housed, a city jail or county facility)
You will need the inmate's booking number or their date of birth and full name.
The jail or prison will release information on the charges, the court date, the arresting agency and the bail amount.
Post-arrest investigations are done after the arrest, but before charges have been filed by the prosecutor.
It is not required that the arresting agency release the police report before the defendant goes to court. However, sometimes a criminal defense attorney can talk the police into releasing the report.
DECISION TO CHARGE
The following individuals can file charges:
District Attorney -
The District Attorney files charges against an individual if they believe there is sufficient evidence to convict the suspect.
City Attorney -
Some cities have a City Attorney's office which handles most misdemeanor cases and determines if there issufficient
evidence to convict the suspect.
In Juvenile cases, the probation department is instrumental in deciding whether or not to charge the defendant.
The following individuals cannot file charges:
Police do not file charges. They only make recommendations to the prosecuting attorney if charges should be filed. Victims, as well, do not file criminal charges. It is a misnomer that a victim "presses charges". These decisions are made by the prosecutor.
FILING THE COMPLAINT
The prosecuting attorney files a document, called a criminal complaint, with the court to show that charges are being filed.
ARRAIGNMENT / FIRST APPEARANCE
A defendant is almost never arraigned within 24 hours of their arrest.
The police are permitted to hold a suspect for up to 72 hours after the arrest. If you are arrested on the weekend, then you can be held for one more day. For example: if you are taken in on a Thursday before a holiday weekend, a client can spend up to four or five days before they see a judge.
You can call the booking information line at the jail or the arresting agency to find out your arraignment date.
At the arraignment, the defendant will be read their rights and the charges against them.
BAIL is set during the arraignment. Bail is an "insurance policy" that the defendant will appear before the court again. The amount of bail is determined by the seriousness of the offense and by the Judge. Bail can be $0 if the person is released "on their own recognizance (O.R.)", but it can be increased if the Judge feels that the defendant will not appear in court again. If the person fails to appear before the court, a warrant will be issued for their arrest.
During the arraignment or any proceeding in front of the court, a criminal defense attorney can bring a motion to reduce bail. The judge decides whether to reduce bail and will consider the client's risk of flight and danger to the public. In a felony case, if your attorney is asking for an O.R. release, the court will most likely set the matter over for an O.R. hearing and order an O.R. report on the defendant. This process usually takes a week.
Special appearances occur when the criminal defense attorney appears in court to ask for a continuance because they have not yet been retained by the defendant and the attorney has not been able to prepare their defense. Special appearances can only be made at the first appearance/arraignment.
DISCOVERY is given to the defense attorney at the arraignment, Discovery includes, but is not limited to: police reports, medical records, probation reports, photographs, diagrams and viewing of physical evidence.
Discovery in criminal cases must be reciprocal, which means that the prosecution must provide the defense lawyer with the evidence they are using in the case. Neither the prosecution nor the defense may "hide" evidence and later introduce it during the trial.
Preliminary hearings only occur in felony offenses.
In most states, a preliminary hearing is necessary for the Judge to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence or probable cause to support the charges against a defendant and bind the case over to Superior Court for trial.
During a preliminary hearing, the District Attorney or the Judge can add additional charges and request that the defendant back into custody even if they are already out on bail.
FILING OF THE INFORMATION OR INDICTMENT
If the prosecuting attorney believes there is enough evidence, they will file a document with the Superior Court which notifies that the State is "charging" the defendant with a particular crime.
ARRAIGNMENT ON THE INFORMATION OR INDICTMENT
The defendant is taken before the Superior Court and informed of their charges. At that time, the defendant will answer to the charges by pleading not guilty, guilty or no contest.
At the Superior Court arraignment, the amount of bail is reviewed, which may be increased or decreased at the court's discretion.
At the pre-trial conference, the criminal defense attorney plea-bargains with the prosecuting attorney, which is a process when the criminal defense attorney negotiates with the prosecution in order to obtain the best possible "deal" or plea for their client.
A "deal" might include:
The prosecution charges the defendant with a lesser charge.
The prosecution agrees to a lesser punishment for the same charge.
The number of counts may be dropped.
A Diversion program
A Conditional Dismissal.
Defense Attorneys may also file Pre-Trial Motions, which may result in a complete DISMISSAL of charges.
Some common motions are:
Motion to Suppress Evidence
Motion to Dismiss the Information
Motion for a Speedy Trial
Motion to Sever Counts
Motion to Compel Discovery
During a jury trial and after the jury is selected, both the defense lawyer and the prosecuting attorney complete the following process:
Direct examinations of their witnesses.
Cross examinations of the opposing witnesses.
During the deliberation of the case, the jury decides the guilt or innocence of the defendant, but the judge will determine the appropriate sentence if the defendant is found guilty.
Upon a guilty verdict, a motion for New Trial might be filed with the court.
Sentencing is a court hearing where the judge determines punishment.
A defendant may be sentenced to Probation instead of prison. However, he or she may be ordered to do some local custody time as a term of his or her probation. If a person violates their probation, they may be incarcerated.
Formal probation is when an individual is supervised by a probation officer.
Informal or summary probation is unsupervised.
If probation is not granted, there is usually a range of three prison terms in each FELONY crime: the low term, mid term, and high term. A Lawyer may argue about the proper term based on the facts of the particular case. The final word is within the judge's broad discretion.
Sentencing modifications occur when part of a person's sentence becomes inapplicable to their case. For example: Suppose a man is convicted of the crime of spousal abuse, and part of his sentence includes that he must stay away from his wife. However, if the man and the wife decide to reconcile, then it would be appropriate for the Lawyer to ask the court to "modify" the man's sentence.
Some alternatives to jail that might be negotiated are:
Electronic Home Monitoring
Residential Treatment Centers
Weekend Work Programs
In addition to any sentence imposed by the court, a conviction can have a number of independent consequences. On felony cases, these consequences can include, but are not limited to:
Loss of the right to vote.
Loss of the right to possess a firearm of any kind.
Loss of the right to associate with known criminals.
Registration as a sex offender.
Increased penalties for future criminal convictions.
Registration as a narcotics offender.
If convicted, a defendant may file an appeal.
The purpose of an appeal is to ensure that the trial court did not make any legal errors throughout the trial process. Appeals may result in the reversal of a person's trial court conviction.
A conditional release from prison entitles the person receiving it to serve the remainder of the term outside the prison, but technically the person will still be under the Department of Corrections.
Typical conditions of parole can include:
Periodic meetings with parole officers.
Foregoing the possession of weapons and not associating with known criminals.
Expungement is a process where, in some cases, a person's criminal conviction may be removed from their record.