Navigating California’s criminal court system can be confusing and overwhelming. The legal process doesn’t play out like it does in a television courtroom drama. The criminal justice system has numerous intricacies that could pose major problems if you don’t know how to negotiate them.
Don’t go it alone when you’ve been charged with a criminal offense. Your reputation, financial security, and freedom hang in the balance.
At the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling, our experienced criminal defense team has the knowledge and resources to help you navigate the California criminal court process effectively. We want to help you prepare for what’s ahead.
Contact the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling for a free consultation so we can build a strategic defense plan. The case review is completely confidential and comes without any further obligations on your part.
Arrest and Initial Proceedings
The first step in the California criminal court process is typically an arrest. An arrest is made when law enforcement suspects a person has committed a crime, and they take that person into custody for further questioning or to charge them.
As an arrested person, you have legal rights. Officers must read those rights to you during the process. Following an arrest, an individual moves through the booking process. During booking, law enforcement officers take fingerprints, record your personal information, and search for past criminal history.
The arrested individual can be held in police custody or released depending on the charges and circumstances of the situation. If an individual gets released by authorities, they can be released on their own recognizance or by posting bail. Bail is money given to the court to ensure an individual has a vested interest in attending their court appearances. Bail may be set in accordance with local bail schedules.
Bail money is returned, minus administrative fees, if the individual appears at all court proceedings. Individuals may also use a bail bond agent. A bail bondsman agrees to pay the full bail amount while the individual pays the bail bondsman a percentage of the bail amount and fees.
The Arraignment Process in California
An arraignment is the defendant’s first official court appearance following the arrest. During an arraignment, the judge announces the charges filed by the prosecutor. Individuals can enter their plea to those charges, such as guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
Your criminal defense attorney can and should be present at the arraignment. However, the court may appoint a public defender to handle your case if you do not have an attorney. In felony cases, there may be more than one arraignment hearing.
Pre-Trial Activities in Criminal Court
The pre-trial phase of a criminal case is perhaps the longest in the California criminal court process. It covers the time between arraignment and trial and includes the discovery phase. During the initial pre-trial phase, additional court appearances, investigations, evidence gathering, and negotiations between opposing attorneys may occur.
The discovery process is among the pre-trial activities that your defense attorney will focus on. Discovery is the part of the court process where the defense team and prosecution exchange vital information and evidence with each other. Both sides must share all the requested information and evidence to ensure each team can effectively prepare their case. Exchanging information can include sharing information about physical evidence relevant to the case, test results, admissible police reports, witness statements, and other crucial documentation.
Pre-trial activities may also involve each attorney filing relevant motions with the court. Motions are formal requests. For example, a motion to suppress evidence is a request for a judge to exclude certain evidence from being presented at trial.
Finally, based on the strength of the evidence in the case, attorneys may negotiate with one another. These negotiations can involve plea bargains or deals allowing an individual to plead guilty to a lesser criminal offense in exchange for reduced penalties and avoiding a trial.
The Trial Phase in California Criminal Court
When a criminal case cannot be resolved through dismissal or a plea bargain, the case moves to the trial phase. Typically, there are two types of trials.
The first is a bench trial. During a bench trial, only a judge is present. The judge presides over the trial and determines the outcome of the case.
The second type of trial is a jury trial. Each attorney will ask questions of potential jurors, choosing people they think will favor their view of the case. While a judge presides over the case, the jury must determine whether the accused is guilty or not guilty.
The trial starts with opening statements by each attorney. The opening statement phase is an attorney’s opportunity to address the jury and present an outline of their case. During a trial, the defense and prosecution can fully present their case and question witnesses. The prosecution must build a case that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual is guilty of committing a criminal offense.
When both sides conclude their case with closing statements, the jury considers the evidence before rendering a verdict, and the judge announces the decision.
Verdict and Potential Sentencing
After considering all available evidence and each side’s arguments, the jury renders a verdict, either guilty or not guilty.
Following a conviction or guilty plea, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled. During a sentencing hearing, a defense attorney can present mitigating circumstances to a judge to justify a more lenient sentence. The prosecution can also present aggravating circumstances to justify why the judge should impose harsher penalties.
Appeals and Post-Conviction Relief
In some criminal cases, you may appeal the verdict from the trial court to a higher court. An appeal involves asking the higher court to review the trial court’s actions and decisions, looking for procedural mistakes.
In California, you have 60 days to appeal a criminal trial order or judgment. Jury, procedural, and judicial misconduct are the most common grounds for appeal in California. The higher court can affirm the verdict. It can also overturn it, opening the door to new proceedings.
How California Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help
Navigating the California criminal court process can be complicated. An experienced criminal defense lawyer has the knowledge and resources to help you navigate the court system effectively, keeping your best interests in mind.
One misstep in the legal process can mean the difference between securing your freedom and receiving harsh legal consequences. That’s why you need the help only a skilled criminal lawyer can provide.
Contact an Experienced California Criminal Defense Lawyer Now
Have you been arrested for a criminal offense in California? Contact the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling for help. Our tenacious criminal defense team is ready to protect your rights and fight for justice. The consultation is free and completely confidential.