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The Criminal Court Process In California

The Criminal Court Process In California

The State of California’s laws, regulations, and criminal court processes are complex and often, confusing. You need the best criminal defense attorney in California that you can find to make sure you and your rights are protected. Whether it is a felony case, a DUI, drug charges, domestic violence, or any other crime, it is essential to have an experienced attorney on your side.

There are many stages to go through when dealing with criminal cases and knowing the court process and what to expect ahead of time will help you prepare.

This article outlines the different parts of the criminal court process and why it is crucial to have the best criminal defense lawyer possible on your side. We understand what you are going through and we know how to navigate the system.

Investigation Of An Alleged Crime

If the police didn’t witness the alleged crime, there would be an investigation before an arrest is made. The goal of an investigation is to determine if a crime happened and who committed it. Depending on the situation, this can take days, weeks, months, or even years. The police will collect evidence and interview witnesses to gather information about a possible crime.

The police may search you or your property as a result of the investigation. Even at this stage, having a criminal defense attorney is beneficial. 

A criminal lawyer will help you:

  • To know your rights and protect you during the interrogation or search.
  • Give you advice on which questions to answer and how to answer them
  • Tell you how to conduct yourself  
  • Tell you your rights during the investigation
  • Attorneys will also be able to work with prosecutors or police to prevent the filing of criminal charges and your arrest when possible

 It is best to always have a lawyer present during any interactions or investigations with the police.

Suspect Is Arrested And Charged After Investigation

Finding evidence during an investigation that may implicate you being guilty is cause for the police to arrest you. During the arrest, the police will search you, and in this instance, it is called a search incident — this is one of the few instances a search warrant is not required.

However, there needs to be probable cause for the police to arrest you. In some instances, one may be arrested on the spot, such as in the circumstance where an officer witnessed an altercation or drug purchase and then stopped the participants. An investigation could also lead to your arrest. In this case, the police may show up at your home, business, or somewhere else with an arrest warrant.

A prosecutor will decide whether to press charges after your arrest. If there is enough evidence and you charged with a crime, you may be:

  • Held for an arraignment 
  • Released on bail
  • Be released if there are no charges filed

Once this is determined and a filing of charges occurs, an arraignment will follow. 

Arraignment

After charging the suspect with a crime, the arraignment will be the first court appearance after being arrested and having charges filed. At this time:

  • The court will read the charges against you
  • The court will read you your rights 
  • The court will appoint a lawyer if you can’t afford one

You will also be able to enter a plea to the charge at this time. If you don’t have a criminal defense lawyer, requesting a continuance at this time may be a good idea, as you will most likely want to consult with a lawyer before entering your plea. It is imperative to understand the consequences of the plea options available to you.

Plea Options are either:

  • A Guilty Plea

Admitting you committed the crime.

  • Not Guilty

Not guilty indicates to the court that you didn’t commit the crime.

  • No Contest

   Acknowledges that there is enough evidence to convict you,  but you don’t admit to the crime

No contest is treated the same as pleading guilty — you will be found guilty, and the court will sentence you. Again, make sure you talk with a criminal defense attorney to understand each plea’s pros and cons and get advice on the best route for you to take based on your circumstances.

Bail Hearings In California

A judge may grant bail; however, bail is contingent on the promise by the suspect to appear at all scheduled court proceedings. The court will address it at your arraignment, or a separate bail hearing. Bail depends on the circumstances of your charge, and a judge has the following options:

 

  • Deny you bail, and you will remain in jail throughout the remainder of your case
  • Set bail for a specific amount that will reflect the crime and the individual’s circumstances
  • Release you without bail, which is known as on your “own recognizance”

You have to remain in jail until you pay the bail amount set by the judge. The judge sets bail based upon your history, the severity of the charge, and whether or not you are a flight risk or not. You must remain in jail for the duration of the trial if the judge sets no bail.

Pretrial Process

During the pretrial process, your criminal defense attorney and prosecutor trade evidence during what is known as the discovery process. Both sides file motions that address any legal issue that can affect the case and how or if it proceeds to trial.

The admissibility of evidence is one of the most critical issues addressed during this discovery period. Suppose the police violated your Fourth amendments rights. In that case, your defense attorney might challenge the legality of any searches or surveillance done on you or your property.

If a judge finds that evidence obtained during an illegal search or surveillance by police,  in the case against you, it is unusable, and this will weaken the prosecution’s case. Your charges could be changed, reduced, or dismissed altogether. Criminal cases are often resolved during the pretrial phase and do not proceed to court.

After the pretrial process, the next step is getting ready for a trial if the case is going to proceed.

Trials In The Criminal Court System

There are two types of trials in California — a bench trial or a trial by jury. Everyone has the right to trial by jury. In a jury trial, each side will present their arguments, evidence, and witness testimony to a jury and the judge. In a bench trial, you waive your right to trial by jury and choose to have the judge decide guilt or innocence.  It is best to consult with your criminal defense attorney before making this decision.

If you go to trial, you must be proven guilty by the prosecutor beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to do so will result in the jury or judge returning with a not guilty verdict. Being found not guilty means you go free. However, if you are found guilty, then the sentencing is the next phase.

A typical California jury trial proceeds this way:

  • Selection of jury members
  • Opening statements made by prosecution and defense attorney
  • Presentation of evidence
  • Closing arguments
  • The jury deliberates
  • The court receives the verdict
  • Followed by sentencing if necessary

Sentencing

When a jury returns a guilty verdict, the judge will set a date for the sentencing hearing. During the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor and defense lawyer will present evidence and make recommendations to the judge regarding what they think is the appropriate sentence based upon your charge and circumstances. The judge will then decide on sentencing.

Filing An Appeal

You have the right to file an appeal of the verdict when found guilty; however, there must be grounds for the appeal. Usually, grounds for an appeal include evidence of flaws in the case or court process such as:

  • The evidence provided wasn’t enough to be supportive of the verdict
  • Evidence that was obtained illegally was used in court
  • During the process of the case, some mistakes were made that affected the outcome
  • Jury misconduct
  • Prosecutor misconduct
  • The court makes an error
  • The transcript or record of the trial is lost or destroyed
  • New evidence is available

Having the best criminal defense attorney on your side during the appeals process can significantly affect the outcome.

Why Having The Best Criminal Lawyer On Your Side Is Important

When you face criminal charges, it’s hard not to focus on what you have to lose. But you have control over your defense – and we’ll do everything in our power to protect your rights. Whether you face a DUI, assault charge, or something else entirely, we put our decades of combined courtroom experience to work for you. We have successfully defended many clients in San Jose and central California over the years. We can defend you, too.

At Hann Law Firm, we take a personal approach to everything we do. From our first consultation, we’ll listen to your needs and concerns. Listening to our clients is at the heart of our success in the courtroom. When you work with us, we’ll address your specific challenges, prepare diligently for the best possible outcome, and create a personalized approach to help achieve your goals. Contact us today for a free consultation and put us to work for you!

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