I've been trying murder cases now in downtown Los Angeles for 26 years. I've handled many of them both at the trial level and obviously, trying to negotiate them under the right circumstances. That's one of the first things you want to figure out before the prosecutors deal with you — what the defense's position is going to be in relation to a murder charge and potential defenses.
Jury Trial vs Negotiation with Prosecutor
Is it going to be a scenario where we're trying to fight the case all the way to a jury trial because the person is innocent and didn't do anything wrong, or is it going to be a scenario where we're going to try to negotiate with the prosecutors.
A negotiation includes getting a lesser charge and get the lowest sentence we can because the police and the prosecutors have done a good job and have the evidence to prove the case. So, this is one of the first things we have to assess before we start thinking about and talking about what the prosecutors might do with a murder case.
We want to get the defense's point of view out there. We want to do any investigation that needs to be done to try to turn the tides in our favor, because a lot of times when I get one of these murder cases in downtown LA, the police have done a lot of investigation.
They've done a lot of work. They've got hundreds of pages of documents. They've spoke to witnesses. They've looked at videos. So, I now have to try to play catch-up here and look at all the evidence that they have and sometimes they give it to me piecemeal.
Sometimes we don't get the videos right away, so I have to go and try to get them from the prosecutors — do whatever investigation I can do to learn all the details of the case.
That's why it's imperative that I sit down with the criminal defendant, talk to them and get their side of the story so I can start to point the investigation in the right direction. See CALCRIM 520 – Murder With Malice Aforethought.
Once we know how we're going to attack the prosecutors, how we're going to attack and approach the case, now we can start thinking about what the prosecutors are going to do. How do they handle a case in downtown Los Angeles?
Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building
A murder case will start in Department 30 and will stay in Department 30 until it's set out for preliminary hearing. So, all issues like bail, discovery are all going to be dealt with by the judge in Department 30.
Then eventually if the case is not resolved, it will be set out for preliminary hearing to one of the departments that's available on the day that we come in to do the preliminary hearing and that will be dictated by the length of the preliminary hearing.
Is it going to be two to three hours? Is it going to be two to three day? How long will it take? That's one of the things that we're assessing.
The prosecutors are going to turn over all the discovery. They'll give you a chance to review it and some of these big cases they may not make an offer to settle the case at the prelim level. They may want to see the strength and weaknesses of their case before they make any offer.
They may want the defense to come to them and make an offer and say, we'll take this to settle it. Then they take it back to one of their supervisor prosecutors — especially if it's a murder case — and see how they feel about the defense's offer — whether they want to make a counter-offer or agree to what the defense is offering.
Reviewing Potential Offers by Prosecutor
Once all of the discovery has been exchanged, once the preliminary hearing has been done, once there's been a discussion about a potential offer in the case, now the case is ready to move forward to trial or it's ready to move forward in trying to resolve the case.
If the case is going to go to trial, once both sides announce ready for trial in downtown LA, the case will be sent to Department 100. The day the case is set there, it will be dolled out to one of the courts that available in the criminal court building, 210 West Temple in Los Angeles.
Then that judge will be responsible not only for hearing the trial, but for also hearing any pretrial motions, motions to exclude evidence, motions to introduce evidence. The judge will rule on all those motions and then once that's done, a jury panel will be ordered.
Usually the jury panel will be ordered for the next day and then the trial will commence. The prosecutors have the burden and the responsibility to put on all the evidence that proves the murder case.
The defense gets to cross-examine all those witnesses and then when the prosecution is done, the defense will be able to call any witnesses they feel are appropriate, including the defendant.. Then the jury will get the case and decide whether the person is innocent or guilty.
This is just a thumbnail sketch of how a criminal case where someone's charged with murder in downtown Los Angeles, kind of twists its way through the court system.
Obviously, you're going to want to sit down with somebody like me who's been doing this for a long time, worked for the District Attorney's office, worked for a Superior Court Judge and now has been a practicing criminal defense attorney handling murder cases for the past 26 years. Pick up the phone. Make the call. We'll start getting this very serious case moving in the right direction.
Hedding Law Firm is a criminal defense law firm located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. We are also located at 633 West Fifth Street Los Angeles, CA 90071. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979.