There are many things that I could say in this area, having practiced criminal defense now in Los Angeles for nearly 30 years. But I think I'm going to break it down into three things.
First, we'll look at the District Attorney's office and how their office is run related to dealing with criminal cases in LA County. Next, we'll look at what roles judges play in criminal cases in Los Angeles. Finally, we'll look at what the best criminal defense attorney does strategy-wise to get the best results for their criminal clients.
First, we'll talk about the District Attorney's office in LA. In short, this office is run like a corporation. There are over a thousand prosecutors in LA county with many supervisors. They grade each of their prosecutors a Grade 1, basically the lowest level prosecutor up to a Grade 5. That's somebody who's:
- been with the DA's office a long time,
- passed whatever internal tests and policies they have, and
- has moved up the ranks in a very positive manner,
- is making top-dollar, and
- is typically given a place in a high-level position.
Head District Attorney
Then, of course, you have the head DA's, which are usually at a Grade 4/5 level. There are assistant heads. You've got the DA of LA county, and then he's got many people under him that operate as his Board of Directors.
So, when a criminal defense attorney goes into court to deal with the DA's office, most courts will have a DA assigned to that court. That DA will be the one that the defense attorney will deal with, but often, that DA will have supervisors who ultimately call the shots as far as what a particular case is worth and what their office is willing to offer to resolve it.
This is not always true; it's just usually accurate. Sometimes they put a Grade 4 or Grade 5 in the initial court, and that person has the authority to do things. Also, according to District Attorney policy, they will assign a prosecutor if the case is a serious case.
For example, most sex crime cases will have an assigned prosecutor where all they will do is deal with that particular case. They may have other assigned cases, but you're not going to get a case passed off to various prosecutors. There's going to be one prosecutor who's marching to the policies of that particular section of the District Attorney's office.
So, if you wanted to negotiate as a defense attorney, you're typically going to go to the boss. When I do it, I'm going to go to a boss that I know is reasonable and who is going to give my client a fair shot at getting the best result in the case. If you end up taking your case to trial, the DA's office will assign a prosecutor to try the case unless there is one already assigned.
What is the Judge's Role in a Criminal Case?
Moving into the next section under Secrets in Los Angeles Criminal Defense, what is the judge's role in a criminal case. Believe it or not, I started this section off by telling you what the judge's role is not, and that is surprising to a lot of people because judges don't typically decide on what the person is going to plead guilty to. They don't decide on what the sentence is going to be.
Most people would think that the judge is in charge of that. Technically, they are; but in reality, in LA county, when a case comes before a judge, and a defendant is going to plead guilty, and it's known to the defense and prosecutor what the resolution is going to be, the judge is usually being given that resolution.
They certainly can veto the resolution and say no; I'm not going to accept that, but probably better than 95% of the time judges do not do that, and they accept what the prosecutors and defense attorney has come up with.
Jury Trials and Pretrial Motions in Criminal Cases
Even in jury trials, judges don't typically decide jury trials; the jury does. So, the judge just kind of:
- runs the trial,
- makes rulings on motions and objections by the parties,
- gives the jury instructions and lets them decide whether someone is innocent or guilty.
Also, suppose it's a felony case. In that case, the judge will decide whether the prosecutors put out enough evidence to hold a particular defendant to answer the charges at the preliminary hearing.
They also rule on all pretrial motions, for example, a motion to suppress. They would decide on that. So, you get an idea of what judges do, and it's not really what many people think. There are exceptions to some of these rules; for example, there are some judges — let's say I have a case and the District Attorney makes an offer of prison, and I don't think a prison offer is fair.
Judges can say, I'm going to undercut the DA's office. I'm going to give them a probationary sentence. So, they do have that authority, and sometimes they do that.
But, a lot of times, they're afraid to go against the District Attorney's office, so you as a criminal defense attorney have to know which judges won't do that, which judges are fair, which judges will do that, which judges will not do that and may not be fair in regards to doling out time in criminal cases.
What is the Role of a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
The last section in the Secrets of Criminal Defense in Los Angeles county deals with the defense attorney's role and how defense attorneys resolve cases. As I said, I worked for the DA's office in 1992, and then for a Superior Court Judge in 1993, and in 1994, I opened my criminal defense law firm and have been doing criminal defense ever since then.
So, I can tell you that one of the biggest things that I do and am successful in defending my clients over the past 30 years is getting to know my client. I want to know who they are, their family, their work, what's important to them related to their case. I'm going to look at their criminal record, and then I have to determine how they want to handle their case from my client.
Do they want to go to trial, or do I want to work out a deal for them? Most of my cases are resolved by way of a deal. So, if they want me to work out a deal, then I have to figure out:
- What the case is worth and discuss that with them, and
- I have to get a bottom line from them,
- I need them to tell me this is what I'll take and this is what I won't take.
That way, when I go in to meet with the prosecutors, I now have the bottom line, and I can figure out how to get that resolution. Sometimes I have to go around people; sometimes, I have to go through people to get the desired result.
Plus, we have to look at what desired result is reasonable in their particular case, and that's just a matter of experience. So, one big secret I think being a defense attorney is getting to know your client and getting to know your case. You have to see if you can win the case or not.
You've got to be able to ascertain whether a motion might be used to win the case, or at least be able to negotiate a better deal, and you've got to be able to know.
Finally, what that case is worth, and that's one of the biggest secrets, is that your lawyer must know what the case is worth, and the only way they're going to be able to figure that out is through experience and skill level.
They have to have taken cases to trial and won. They've had to have done a lot of cases. They need to know the prosecutor and judge they're dealing with to really and truly ascertain what type of result is the best for you. They have to talk to you about it. Sometimes people will not take a deal in a case and want to fight the case and go to trial.
So, you have to make sure because one big secret in the criminal defense field is scared to go to trial. You don't want one of those lawyers because the prosecutors know those lawyers will never go to trial either, so they're not going to make the best deals in the suitable cases for a criminal defendant.
Hopefully, this information has been helpful to you. If you want the best criminal defense attorney at a fair price, you've come to the right place. Pick up the phone. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you. Hedding Law Firm is based and Los Angeles County, and we offer a free case consultation by calling (213) 542-0979.