I thought it might be good to explain how the criminal case process works from a seasoned criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles County who's handled thousands of cases over a long career.
One who has looked at cases from the angle of a prosecutor, looked at cases from the angle of a judge, and finally looked at cases for the last 26 years from the angle as a criminal defense attorney trying to get the best possible result for my clients time and time again.
Arrest, Booking, and Setting Bail
Here's how the process starts. Somebody comes in contact with the police. Usually that person is arrested. Once they're arrested they're taken into custody. They're put in the back of the police car and then they're going to be booked for certain charges.
First they'll take their fingerprints usually. They'll take a photograph of them and then they'll book them and then that person will be eligible once they get booked and their fingerprints are taken and the jail can confirm they don't have any warrants for their arrest, then they're going to set a bail.
That bail is set and that person can get a bail bondsman. I usually like to help and coordinate with the bail bondsman to try to get the lowest percentage possible so the person is paying the least amount of money. Then we see if we can get the person bailed out. We get them in the office and we talk about the case.
Arraignment in Criminal Court
If we can't get them bailed out, then obviously I'm going to show up at the arraignment which is the next stage of the proceeding. At the arraignment we're going to enter a not guilty plea. We're going to get all of the paperwork and discovery related to the case and then myself and the client will sit down and talk about everything.
But backing up a minute, once you get a bail posted you're not going to get your paperwork until you appear in court and usually in Los Angeles County if you post bail in your case, you won't appear in court for 30 to 45 days. So, that's an interesting little side note that a lot of people don't realize.
So, let's say that you get arrested on a big case and your bail is a huge bail amount and you don't post the bail and you're in court within 72 hours, the prosecutors and the police are going to be forced to get the paperwork and the evidence together against you inside that 72-hour window.
If they don't do that they're going to have to dismiss the case, so you'll get the paperwork within two or three days because you're going to appear in court and they're going to have to turn it over to your criminal defense attorney.
If on the other hand, you bail out, you give those guys an extra 30 to 45 days to get the paperwork together because you're not going to be able to appear in court for 30 to 45 days, they don't need to have the paperwork until that time frame. That's definitely something you want to discuss with your criminal defense attorney and I talk about these issues all the time with clients and their family.
Once you appear in court — sometimes you're going to appear in court because they're going to send you a letter to tell you to appear in court. Obviously I have the client bring that and we discuss it.
Other times they may just give you a citation to appear in court, in which case you'll have a court date about 30 to 45 days ahead and we can plan and really angle everything leading up to that court date, but of course, you will not get the paperwork until your attorney appears on that court date to get the paperwork.
Now we go back to inside the courthouse. That's your arraignment. Your arraignment is basically where you enter your plea. Most times you're going to enter a not guilty plea. Even if you're guilty of something, you're still probably going to enter a not guilty plea because obviously you can't get all the paperwork.
You're not going to have the time to review it usually on that first court appearance. I try to review all of the paperwork when I get it there, but a lot of times I want my client to take the time to review the paperwork.
I want to discuss it with my client. Maybe you want to get some mitigating evidence in the case before we decide on pleading guilty or no contest if that's what we're ultimately going to do.
Enter Not Guilty Plea and Court Date is Set
It's common in criminal defense to enter a not guilty plea at the first court appearance. Nobody looks poorly on you and says oh my gosh, they entered a not guilty plea and they're clearly guilty. That's just kind of a normal thing that is done in criminal defense.
So, you enter that not guilty plea and then a new court date is going to be set.
At the same time the new court date is going to be set, the judge is also going to set bail. So, let's say that you posted a $50,000 bond. You got out. You appeared with your attorney 30 days later and you appeared in front of the judge, you enter a not guilty plea they set a new court date 30 days away, they're now going to set bail.
So, they can set that $50,000 bail or they could even set a higher bail. That's another thing that you want to be ready for going into the arraignment. That's another big reason to hire a great criminal defense attorney because sometimes that criminal defense attorney is going to be tested right from the gate because they're going to have to argue your bail. They're going to have to argue that the bail remain the same.
Sometimes you're in custody when we appear at your court date and we're going to have to argue for you to be released on your promise to appear (OR Release) and show a bunch of good mitigating factors.
Show you're not a flight risk, show you're not a danger to the community to try to get that release on your own recognizance or to get the bail lowered or block the bail from being raised until you get taken into custody at the arraignment, which is another pitfall of practicing criminal defense or being a defendant in a criminal case.
Once you enter that not guilty plea, if your case is a misdemeanor then it's going to be set for pre-trial. If your case is a felony it will be set for a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is kind of like a mini trial.
It's where they have to put on the evidence to show that you're guilty of the crime and prove the case not beyond a reasonable doubt, but to a reasonable suspicion to the judge, not a jury. If the prosecutors can do that, they can move past the preliminary hearing phase and then the case will be set for trial.
In the misdemeanor case, once your case is set for pre-trial if you're unable to resolve the case, you're unable to get it dismissed then you end up setting the case for trial.
Trial and Sentencing in a California Criminal Case
Both scenarios, felony or misdemeanor, you're entitled to have a jury and the jury would have to find that you're unanimously guilty of whatever you're charged with, otherwise they'll find you not guilty which will also have to be unanimous or they'll be a hung jury which basically means that not all of the jurors can agree on a verdict as it relates to the particular charges that you're charged with.
If you're convicted in the case, you'll ultimately be sentenced by the judge that heard all of the evidence and then that judge will punish you for what you did. Your attorney will have a chance to argue on your behalf.
So, that's a thumbnail sketch of how the criminal process works, but there's all kinds of little sub-issues and blow-up issues that I tried to touch upon in this home page and throughout this website. I've got videos. I've written books on some of the more major crimes, so I encourage you to take a look at areas that pertain to you.
Contact Hedding Law Firm for Help
Look at videos that pertain to you. Then come and speak to me live and in person. Let's sit down. Let's go over your case. Let's see what you've done; what you haven't done.
Let's get an expectation of what you're looking at in the case and let's figure out exactly what we can do to put you in the strongest position to get out of the criminal justice system because nobody wants to be in the criminal justice system because you lose control of your life.
You'll lose control of your future and it is a dangerous, unforgiving system that if you don't handle it the right way — you don't get the right attorney — you don't get the right strategy, then you're not going to get the right result. Pick up the phone. Take the first step now. I stand ready to help you.
Hedding Law Firm is a top-rated criminal defense law in Los Angeles located at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. We also have an office at 633 West Fifth Street Los Angeles, CA 90071. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979.