Administrative Representation Attorney in San Diego
If you have been charged with a crime in California, it is important that you understand California’s criminal court process. There are several stages and different times when you will be required to appear in court, and it is essential you have an experienced criminal justice attorney by your side when you do.
Here is what you can expect if you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony in California:
- Arraignment: This is when you will first appear in court. You will be formally notified of the charges and your rights. Your attorney will enter a plea on your behalf of either not guilty, guilty, or no contest. By entering a plea of not guilty, you are telling the court that you deny the allegations and are requiring the prosecution to prove that you committed a crime. A guilty plea means that you admit to committing the crime, and the prosecution does not need to prove in a trial that you broke the law. No contest means that you do not admit that you are guilty, but admit that the facts of the criminal complaint are true. Bail may be set at this time, or there may be a separate bail hearing.
- Bail Hearing: Bail is an amount of money that you pay as a security to the court that you will return for future court proceedings. Sometimes the court will accept your promise to return without requiring that you pay money. At the bail hearing, you are asking the court to release you from custody while you await trial.
What happens next depends on whether you are being charged with a misdemeanor or felony. If you are charged with a felony, there will be a preliminary hearing, followed by a felony arraignment, and then the pretrial conference. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, the next step will be the pretrial conference.
- Preliminary Hearing: At this court hearing, the prosecution is required to show that there is probable cause to proceed with a trial. Probable cause means there is enough evidence that a jury could find you guilty. The prosecution does not have to present all of the evidence that it has against you. If they cannot show probable cause that you committed the crime, the case may be dismissed.
- Felony Arraignment: If the prosecution has shown probable cause to proceed to trial, there will be a second arraignment. You will be notified of the charges against you and of your rights. You will be given the chance to enter a plea.
- Pretrial Conference: This is a meeting between your lawyer, the prosecution, and the judge. They will discuss if it is possible to resolve the case without going to trial; for example, making a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement that you will enter a guilty plea, typically in exchange for a lighter sentence or the admission will be for a lesser crime than the one you were charged with committing.
- Pretrial Motions Hearings: Motion hearings can occur at any stage of the case. A motion is a request that the court rule on a particular issue before trial. For example, there may be a motion to prevent the prosecution from using evidence against you that may have been illegally obtained.
- Trial: If no plea bargain is entered or if the case is not dismissed, you will go to trial. You have the right to a jury but may choose to have your case heard only by a judge. If there is a jury, the first part of the trial is jury selection. In both jury and judge trials, there will be opening statements, the presentation of evidence, and closing arguments. If there is a jury, then there will be jury deliberations. The trial ends with the verdict. The verdict is the decision about whether you are guilty.
- Sentencing Hearing: If you are found guilty, there will be a sentencing hearing. This is when the judge informs you of your penalty. You will have the opportunity to present information to try to convince the judge to set a low penalty.
- Appeal: If you have been found guilty, you have a right to appeal the decision. An appeal is a request for a higher court to review your trial for errors. It is not a new trial in which you get to argue that you are not guilty. Instead, you are trying to show that the trial court made a mistake in finding you guilty.