The Criminal Process
Facing allegations of criminal conduct is a daunting experience. Many people think they have committed a particular act(s) of wrongdoing and are therefore guilty, while others claim complete innocence regardless of their involvement. The key to knowing whether you are in fact culpable to some degree or not and how to proceed on any particular case is to get sound legal advice before heading into court. Going into court alone can result in delays in your case, or worse, fast tracking your case before an attorney has been able to investigate your side of the case and defend you properly in the early stages. Furthermore, the court and/or District Attorney may raise your bail (even if you posted bail from jail) and take you back into custody. A consultation with a lawyer prior to your court date will provide you with information and the probability of such an occurrence and how to prepare for it ahead of time.
A typical example of a misdemeanor is driving under the influence (DUI) or driving on a suspended license. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, the first step in the criminal law process is the arraignment on the complaint. In simple terms, the court will advise you of the charges the District Attorney is accusing you of committing. Many things can happen on the day of arraignment and it differs from court to court and county to county throughout southern California, especially if you go in without a lawyer. Many courts will entice you to plea guilty on the spot. The problem with this practice is that you will have no idea what the evidence is in your case or whether you have any viable legal options to do better than what the judge or District Attorney is offering you. If you hire counsel, you will know. You will have an opportunity to review your case with your attorney and determine a proper defense, whether any appropriate motions should be filed, if further discovery or investigation is necessary and decide the best course of action for you. Your lawyer will enter a plea of not guilty or continue the arraignment to allow time for this purpose. Several pretrial conferences may be necessary to reach an acceptable or desired outcome for the case. If an agreeable disposition or dismissal cannot be reached, the case is set for trial.
Contact us for further information on what happens in the trial court. See our case results for misdemeanor case successes.
If you are charged with a felony, the first step in the criminal law process is the arraignment on the complaint or indictment. In simple terms, the court will advise you of the charges the District Attorney is accusing you of committing. Typically, the court will automatically enter a not guilty plea for you if you do not have an attorney, otherwise your attorney will enter such a plea and set your case over to another date for a pretrial conference or preliminary hearing. Bail may or may not be set at this stage and bail may also be increased at this stage as well (without notice to you, and even if you bailed out prior to your court date), so be aware of this and contact us for more information if you decide to head into court alone. We strongly suggest that you never go in to court alone without an attorney for many reasons. If you do go alone however, do not expect to explain or plead your case to the judge. That only happens in traffic ticket cases. Contact us for more details on this.
At the pretrial conference (also referred to as a pre-preliminary hearing, early disposition proceeding or felony settlement conference), your attorney will have the opportunity to discuss and negotiate your case with the District Attorney’s office and file any appropriate motions if your case calls for it. Many things can happen at this stage ranging from an outright dismissal to a negotiated settlement or hearing of certain motions. Continuances at this stage are not uncommon as the lawyers are trying to bridge the gap between their perspectives on the case and the validity or invalidity of evidence. If a resolution cannot be reached at this stage, the case will proceed to a preliminary hearing.
At the preliminary hearing, police officers and/or victims or witnesses may show up to testify as to what they believe occurred and to authenticate evidence. This is not a trial and there is no jury at this stage. You, as the defendant, will not, or will rarely speak or testify at this stage. The hearing is designed to proffer evidence before a judge to determine whether such evidence is sufficient enough to permit the District Attorney’s office to proceed to trial or whether the case or certain charges should be dismissed. The standard of proof at this hearing is not one beyond all reasonable doubt like at the criminal jury trial stage, rather it is a much lower standard of preponderance of the evidence (or in lay terms, more likely than not). At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the judge will make a finding to dismiss or reduce charges and decide whether the case should proceed to trial by ‘holding the defendant to answer’ for the charge(s). In the event that you are held to answer, the case will be calendared in the Superior Court for an arraignment on the information. Once arraigned, your case will be assigned to a trial calendar. Bail may or may not be revisited at this time.
Contact us for further information on what happens in the trial court. See our case results for Felony case successes.
THREE STRIKES CASES
The Three Strikes Law significantly increases the prospective prison sentences of persons convicted of felonies who have previously been convicted of a violent crime or serious felony, and limits the ability of these offenders to receive a punishment other than a prison sentence and may extend prison terms to 25 year to life. Violent and serious felonies are listed generally in the California state penal code sections 1192.7 and 667.5.
Violent offenses include but are not limited to, murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery, rape and other sex offenses; serious offenses may include the same offenses as violent crimes, and include but not limited to residential burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, charges alleged to have inflicted great bodily injury, arson, witness intimidation, criminal threats or terrorist threats, and gang related enhancements and charges to name a few.
One, two and three strikes cases can be complicated and carry very serious consequences both for the present and the future.
Contact us to discuss the impact of strike offenses in greater detail. See our case results for three strikes case successes.