A person who is arrested for a felony offense in California will be thrust into a complicated and often confusing legal process, where the outcome will be uncertain, and the consequences could be very severe. If you are charged with a felony in California, it is important that you understand the process and that you have the assistance of an experienced California criminal defense attorney who is able to protect your rights at every stage. After arrest, the process generally proceeds through the following stages:
Arraignment. The arraignment is the defendant’s first appearance in court. The defendant has a right under the Sixth Amendment to be assisted by counsel at this and all other stages of the criminal process. The main purpose of the arraignment is to formally notify the defendant of the charges against him and to enter a plea. Unless the defendant waives his right to a formal reading of the charges, the clerk of court will read the actual complaint containing the charges. Otherwise, the clerk will simply hand the defendant’s attorney a copy of the complaint so that he and the defendant can read the complaint for themselves. The other purpose of the arraignment hearing is to set bail. First, the judge will decide whether there are conditions that could be set that would guarantee the safety of the community and the defendant’s return to court. If there are no such conditions, then the defendant will be held in jail pending trial. If there are such conditions, then the judge will set a bail amount and other conditions that the defendant must follow in order to remain on pretrial release.
Preliminary Hearing. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the judge to decide whether there is enough evidence for the case to go forward to trial. The prosecutor puts on a witness who can present hearsay evidence that gives an overview of the case against the defendant. The prosecutor’s burden of proof at this stage is much lower than it will be at trial, and there is usually no need to put forward all of the government’s evidence.
Grand Jury Indictment. Sometimes, the district attorney will chose proceed with a felony case by presenting the case to a grand jury. The grand jury proceeding is a secret proceeding in which the defendant generally does not participate. If the grand jury hands down an indictment, then the case does not need to go to through a preliminary hearing in court. Instead, the case will proceed directly to trial if it is not resolved by the parties.
Discovery. The prosecutor and the defense will exchange information during the discovery process. This will allow the defense attorney to learn important information about the prosecution’s witnesses and evidence. In addition, the defense attorney will use the information to investigate the case further and develop a robust defense.
Plea Negotiations. Plea negotiations can occur at any stage of the process, but often they begin in earnest after the discovery process, once both parties have a good sense of the strength of the government’s case against the defendant. If you agree to a plea bargain, you can change your plea to guilty or no contest in exchange for reduced charges or other concessions.
Motions. Both sides can file pretrial motions in order to get an early ruling from the court on crucial evidentiary issues. For example, if the defense attorney learns that the police acted improperly in obtaining statements or evidence from the defendant, he can file a motion to suppress evidence. If the court grants the motion, the prosecution may be forced to drop the charges against the defendant.
Trial. If the case is not resolved, then it will eventually proceed to trial. Felony charges will be heard by a jury.
As a former prosecutor, Diana Weiss Aizman of the Aizman Law Firm has extensive experience and unique insight into the defense of the full range of criminal charges. Contact the Aizman Law Firm right away if you have been charged with a criminal offense.
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