A lot of people are confused and don't totally understand exactly what the judge's role is in a criminal case in Los Angeles courthouses. One example of what I' talking about is a lot of people think that the judges are going to be the one in every case to decide exactly what the sentence is, which is actually not true.
Most Cases Resolved By Plea Bargain with Prosecutor in Los Angeles
In most of the state courts in Los Angeles County, cases are resolved by way of a plea bargain. It's something that's done between the defense attorney and the prosecutor's office. So, it's already a foregone conclusion as to what the sentence is going to be in the criminal case before the judge even gets his or her hands on it.
There are circumstances where a judge might say, I'm not accepting this deal. This is too light on the defendant. I've very rarely seen them say this is too heavy on the defendant, but I have seen them say I'm not accepting this deal, this case is too serious and I'm not going to accept the plea in this case.
Then you have a problem obviously. Really though, understand most of the time if your criminal case is in Los Angeles, a judge really just going to say I accept the sentence. I've reviewed the probation report and sentence the person to exactly what was agreed on by the prosecutor and the defense attorney.
Exceptions to that are sometimes the prosecutor and the defense attorney in these Los Angeles cases can't agree on a sentence for a person. They can't agree on exactly how the case should go down.
Open Plea in Los Angeles Criminal Court
At that point, there are circumstances where the defense attorney can approach the judge and say we cannot resolve this case. I don't think the case should go to trial. What if we plead open to you? Here's what we want.
We don't want the person to get any jail time. We think because they have no record they should just get community service of community labor and be put on probation. Are you willing to give them that if they plead to you? If the judge reviews everything that's available and says absolutely, then that cuts the prosecutor right out because the judge controls the sentence.
If you plead open to them, then they can sentence you how they want. Where you'd have a problem is when you plead open to the judge, you have to plead to all the counts and you can't change the counts because the prosecutors control the charges.
Another problem that arises is if you have a charge where if a defendant pleads to it, by law the judge must send him to prison and the judge can't do anything but send that person to prison. So, you can go ahead and plead open, but the judge is going to say, well my hands are tied.
Because you pled to this charge I have to give you a certain minimum sentence. So, you have to factor that in when you're dealing with these cases.
Setting Bail and Ruling on Motions in Los Angeles Criminal Cases
Another thing that the judge is in charge of and really will just listen to what the prosecutor says and the defense attorney is bail. They get to set bail and once they set bail, that's the bail in the case unless there's changed circumstances so that's a very important distinction that the judge has in setting bail in Los Angeles County so you can get out and fight your case while you're out on the streets.
The judge rules on all motions, so, if there was an illegal search of a car, someone's person or someone's home, the judge would rule whether that was legal or not legal. If they found it was not legal, they can suppress that evidence.
Prosecutors can use it and then more than likely have to dismiss their case. So, the judge does definitely have some power in the right circumstances. So, as a criminal defense attorney, you have to know what those circumstances are and use the judge the right way and be careful not to do anything that puts your client in a bad position as it relates to the judge.
Ruling on Objections and Jury Instructions in Los Angeles Criminal Cases
There're all kinds of different circumstances we can think of. The judge rules on all objections during a trial. The judge instructs the jury during a trial. If it's a preliminary hearing in a felony case and somebody is trying to put in some evidence and the other party doesn't want it, the judge is going to rule on that and make a decision.
The judge makes the decision at the end of the preliminary hearing whether the person is going to be held to answer and send him the trial court. So, the judge definitely has a lot of power in criminal cases.
The key is understanding where the judge's power is, and as a defense attorney trying to defend people in criminal cases, you also have to understand the tendencies of each judge, and obviously, the tendencies of the judge that's handling your client's case and what you can do with that judge to get a benefit for your client and what you need to watch out for with that particular judge so that your client doesn't end up with a severe punishment.
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