How a California Criminal Case Starts

If you were recently arrested in Orange County and this is your first run-in with the law, you’re probably nervous and apprehensive right about now. What will happen next? Where do you go from here? To help you better understand how the state handles criminal cases, we’re going to give you a brief explanation below.

If you are facing criminal charges, we encourage you to contact our firm to schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced and hard-hitting criminal defense attorney. You have to remember two things: knowledge is power and you are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt!

Step 1. The Arrest
When a suspect is arrested, the police take the individual to jail. There, either the defendant is: 1) released because the district attorney decides not to press charges, 2) the defendant posts bail or bond and promises they will appear for their arraignment, or 3) the criminal defendant remains in jail and they are transported to court for their arraignment by law enforcement officers.

Step 2. The Case Begins
When the police arrest a suspect, a report is written, which summarizes the circumstances surrounding the arrest. Generally, a defendant does not have a right to receive a copy of their arrest report, however, their lawyers do. Why? It’s to protect the witnesses. Since defendants cannot see their arrest report, this is one very good reason to hire a criminal defense lawyer.

It’s up to the prosecutor to decide whether or not to file formal charges against a defendant and if so, which charges to file. The prosecutor will decide whether to charge the suspect with a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor has the power to file additional or less charges than what were included in the arrest report.

Since criminal defendants have the right to a speedy trial, the prosecutor has to file charges within 48 hours of the defendant’s arrest. However, weekends and holidays do not count against the 48 hour deadline.

Step 3. The Arraignment
This is the first time the defendant will appear in court. During the arraignment the judge informs the defendant of their charges and their constitutional rights among other things. During the arraignment, the defendant either pleas (responds to his or her charges) not guilty, no contest (nolo contendere), or guilty.

Once the defendant enters their plea (response), one of the following occurs:

  • The judge releases the defendant on their own recognizance, meaning, they agree to return to court on a specified day, or
  • The judge sets bail and the defendant goes back to jail until someone posts the bail, or
  • The judge denies bail and sends the defendant back to jail.

Step 4. Following the Arraignment
If it’s a misdemeanor case, either side may file pretrial motions to dismiss the case or prevent evidence from being admitted at trial, the defendant may change their plea, or both sides may reach a plea deal. If all else fails, the defendant can have a trial.

If it’s a felony case, the judge will decide at a preliminary hearing if there’s enough evidence to proceed to trial. If there is enough evidence, the defendant will be arraigned a second time.

Before the trial, several things could happen: either side can file motions to dismiss the case, the defendant may change their plea, a plea agreement between the defense and the prosecution may be reached, or the judge may try to facilitate a resolution between both sides.

Step 5. Trial
If the case has not been resolved or if a plea agreement has not been reached, then the case will proceed to trial. Defendants in misdemeanor and felony cases have the right to have a jury of their peers decide whether they are innocent or guilty. Often, defendants choose to have a jury decide on their fate, but sometimes they will opt for a court trial instead, which does not involve a jury.

Are you facing criminal charges in Orange County? Contact the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. for a free case evaluation with one of OC’s premier criminal defense firms!

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Law Offices of Virginia Landry, Inc. - Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer
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