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Los Angeles Criminal Court System



When it comes to criminal law in Los Angeles you have to know that LA boasts one of the biggest criminal justice systems in the world.  What I mean by that is, when you look at the amount of prosecutors, judges, courthouses and just the volume of people that are in Los Angeles and are involved in the criminal justice system, it really is overwhelming.

In fact, Sacramento has determined that as far as revenue generating, the criminal justice system and the courts generate the bulk of the money that flows into the coffers of Sacramento.

What they’ve done, which is interesting, is there was approximately forty courthouses in Los Angeles and they have closed many of them down and basically shifted the cases that would normally go to certain courthouses into other larger courthouses in order to try to save money.

But it’s interesting because each of the courthouses that they closed down generated money in and of themselves.  So, I guess it’s really a long project that they’re looking at to see if by closing down to approximately twenty-five courthouses, whether that actually is going to generate them more revenue.

Then the issue becomes how does that impact the criminal justice system in Los Angeles when you have a courthouse — for example, the Airport Court — taking all of the cases from Beverly Hills, Hollywood and much of the west side of Los Angeles and even some of the cases from Malibu.  That now drives a huge volume of cases there and the prosecutors and judges have to deal with that.

Largest Criminal Justice System Handling All Levels of Crime

The criminal justice system in Los Angeles is probably one of the more interesting in the world because it’s a mass metropolis with people all over — all sorts of different levels of crime — whether it be street crime like robbery, burglary, theft — or whether it be more sophisticated money-related offenses likes white collar offenses.  There’s all sorts of different things going on, on the internet and there’s gun-related offenses.Los Angeles Criminal Court System

So, if you have a case in the Los Angeles criminal justice system and you’re trying to figure out how to tackle it, obviously your first step is to get to an attorney who knows the system and has handled cases similar to yours in the jurisdiction where your case is pending.

That lawyer is going to be able to save you a lot of time and aggravation trying to figure things out when they’ve already been through exactly what you’re about to go through and come out the other end successfully.  So, they can kind of give you a vision of what a successful result will be in a criminal case that you might have pending.

But to give you an idea of how the system works, somebody gets arrested and depending on where they’re arrested, that will dictate which courthouse their case is sent to.  So, that’s why when people call me and say they have a case in Los Angeles and they need a quote for a fee, the first thing I asked is, which court is the case in.

Believe it or not, some people don’t even know.  They don’t even realize.  They just think Los Angeles is Los Angeles; meanwhile, they don’t realize there are twenty-five courts now in Los Angeles.  Which court the case is in is going to be important because some of the courts are more conservative than others depending on what the offense is or what the crime is that the person is charged with.

It will be fairly easy for me to figure out which court it’s in because I’m also going to be asking where did the incident occur.  And depending on where the incident occurred, that’s going to dictate where the courthouse is located.  So, if it happened in the San Fernando Valley the case is going to be in Van Nuys.  If it happened in Santa Monica, the case is going to be in the Airport Court and so on.

Criminal Case Process

First, you need to know where your court is and then what will happen next is, you’ll either be arrested, in which you’ll be brought in custody if you don’t bail out and they’re gonna take you within seventy-two hours to the court that has jurisdiction over your case.

You’ll be arraigned and you’ll enter your plea  You’ll be given the discovery and paperwork in the case and then your attorney will be able to deal with your particular case.

The other thing that can happen is you can be given a bail on the case and you could post the bail and then you’ll get out.  They typically give you a court date within thirty to forty-five days and then you’ll appear with your attorney.  You’ll enter your plea.

Believe it or not, sometimes the police get the bail wrong and the prosecutors who are the lawyers that deal with the criminal cases may argue for a higher bail.  So, obviously, you’re going to want your attorney there to challenge that and get the lowest bail possible or at least get the bail that you already posted so you don’t go into custody and have to dish out more money related to your offense.

If it’s a misdemeanor case, a lot of times you’ll just be given a ticket and it will say at the bottom which court your case is going to be in and then you’ll be able to go to that court with your attorney, or a lot of times on misdemeanor cases, your attorney can appear for you.

First Court Appearance is an Arraignment

Once you appear in court, the first court appearance is called the arraignment.  You will enter your plea — either not-guilty, guilty or no-contest.  Sometimes the arraignment is even continued and no plea is entered depending on what your attorney wants to do — what their strategy is depending on which courthouse, which judge, which prosecutor is involved in the case.

Your attorney will usually get the main bulk of the paperwork related to your case — the arrest reports and whatever else they have.  If there are things like blood results, DNA, video evidence, sometimes the prosecutors don’t have that at the first court appearance, so what we usually do is write them a letter.

If we can see there’s stuff out there for our client then we’ll let them know that we want to get our hands on that stuff and they have an obligation to get it from the police and turn it over to the criminal defense attorney so we can review that and prepare the case.

Once we have all of the discovery and we reviewed it, then we’ll be in a position to start talking about the case — getting a strategy together — and figuring out exactly how we’re going to handle the case.

Developing a Defense Strategy with Your Lawyer

Whether we’re going to take an offensive approach where we try to attack the prosecutor’s case and get it dismissed, or whether we realize that the prosecutors have good evidence against you and we’re going to try to take more of a damage control approach where we’re trying to gather things in mitigation and negotiate with the prosecutors.

Once that’s decided, then the case will go into whatever posture we’ve decided to handle the case and we can move forward and either pursue getting the case into a trial mode or getting the case keyed up so we can negotiate with the prosecutor, get it resolve and get you set up to get out of the criminal justice system as fast as possible.

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Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

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