This outline is designed to help clients gain a better understanding of the process involved in a criminal case. This is only a general outline meant for the purposes of disseminating legal information. It is important to understand that each and every case is unique in it’s facts and circumstances, thus a client should always speak to their attorney in detail about their specific case and defenses.
We have also provided a felony flow chart for your viewing
THE PLAYERS: ATTORNEYS, DA’s, JUDGES
The District Attorney’s Office (DA) is responsible for filing criminal cases against a person(s) or entity(s). The DA, also referred to as a “prosecutor””, is a government employee who represents the People of the State of California. The role of the DA is to look over the facts and circumstances of a situation and make a determination as to what, if any, criminal charges should be filed. If the DA believes there is criminal activity, he must also select specific crimes to charge the defendant and provide the charges in a complaint. The DA is present at all court appearances once the case filed until the case is resolved and makes offers and recommendations to Defense counsel and the Judge for resolution of cases. At its core, the DA (or in some matters CA “City Attorney”) fights against the defendant and for the state.
The Defense Attorney represents the Defendant in a criminal case. The Defense Attorney also called a “private attorney” because he works directly for the client and has no association with the government. If you cannot afford a private attorney the government can provide the assistance of the public defender, who is government employee. The defense attorney directly represents the defendant’s rights and interests and fights against the prosecutor or DA in order to get the best resolution. The law offices of Matian & Moaddel are private criminal defense attorneys. Our criminal defense firm prides itself on ensuring the best case results for our clients. We go to great lengths to ensure that our clients understand the nature of the charges against them, their rights, the evidence used for and against them, possible defenses, motions and strategy. Feel free to give our office a call the further discuss your case 877-6-FIX-LAW or 877-634-9529.
The Judge (also referred to as “the court”) presides over the entire case and plays an important role in the case. At every stage of the preceding the Judge is present and in charge of overseeing the case. The judge must rule on motions, set dates, can give offers or “deals” to the defense attorney amongst many other duties. The Judge is the ultimate decider in the case affairs; the Judge must approve everything, even if a deal is struck between the defense and prosecutor. The Judge is also the person what makes a determination on bail, probation violations and sentencing.
Typically, every criminal prosecution begins with either law enforcement agency being contacted regarding a crime, or law enforcement will conduct investigations and common surveillance for the purposes of deterring and stopping criminal activity. When a police officer believes a crime has been committed and intends to make an arrest, absent acquiring an arrest warrant, he must have PROBABLE CAUSE to do so. Probable cause is the standard by which an officer or agent of the law has the grounds to make an arrest. This term comes from the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The best-known definition of probable cause is “a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime“. Another common definition is “a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true”
CLASSIFICATIONS OF CRIMES
Crimes are classified as felonies and misdemeanors. Infractions, like traffic violations are civil offenses not considered crimes. A felony is a crime punishable by serving time in a state prison. A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by serving time in a jail. Some crimes can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor, there crimes are called “wobblers”. Common wobblers are Assaults, DUI’s, Battery, each crime names can be charges as a felony or misdemeanor.
ARREST AND BOOKING
If arrested for a low-grade misdemeanor offence, like petty theft, law enforcement will typically cite you with a promise to appear to court to be heard on misdemeanor charges. For all other offenses, once arrested law enforcement will transport you to a holding facility (police station, county jail) where you will be processed and booked into the system. This process includes providing a photograph, “mug-shot”, fingerprints, personal information and a search of your person and belongings.
Once arrested, law enforcement will make a determination as to bail, they can:
1. Issue Bail Amount
2. Release on Own Recognizance
3. Bail Hold or No Bail
Bail is security, usually a sum of money, exchanged for the release of an arrested person as a guarantee of that person’s appearance for trial.
Bail is set by the arresting officer, his supervisor, the watch commander, jail release officers, or the Judge. In each county, a bail schedule gives a guideline for bail amounts depending on the charges that the individual was booked on. The Los Angeles County Bail Schedule can be downloaded via http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/bail/. To post bail, one can use cash or a bail bondsman. Once the Judge sets bail, a motion in court must be made to argue for a reduction in the bail amount. Once bail is posted and the defendant released, the bond remains in effect until it is exonerated which occurs when the case is over, if there are no failures to appear.
Sometimes the defendant will receive an “O.R. (Own Recognizance)” release and will not have to post bail. If the offense is a misdemeanor and the defendant can positively identify him or herself, the police may release the defendant upon a written promise to appear at court for arraignment. This is also being known as being “cited out.”
If a defendant is arrested and booked based on a serious felony or is on parole or probation, law enforcement may hold the accused without offering any bail amount.
If bail has been set, or no bail has been issued, the defense attorney may be heard on bail, via a bail motion, in an attempt to persuade the Judge to either lessen bail or grant bail.
REFERRAL TO DISTRICT ATTORNEY/FILING
After law enforcement arrest and books (or cites out) the suspect, they begin to write reports and gather evidence. These reports can also be supplemented by more reports in the future. They package together all the reports, findings and evidence they send all the reports over to “filing District Attorney”. This person is an attorney and works for the district attorneys office. They are responsible for reviewing the reports and evidence and determine which offense(s) the defendant committed. The filing district attorney then prepares a criminal complaint, which is filed with the appropriate court, accusing a defendant with the commission of one or more crimes. The Police will recommend the D.A file certain charges based on the information obtained by them, but the district attorney is the decision maker. The D.A. has independent discretion to bring the recommended charges, other charges, or none at all. Occasionally, the D.A. may need to return the file back to the Police to clarify a certain point that is necessary to the case. There is a common misconception that citizens or victims can “press charges” or “drop the charges”. The D.A. is able to take into consideration whether their interest or lack of interest would affect the case, but the prosecutor has the ultimate decision and can file charges even if there is no interest to the specific victim or citizen because there may be other reasons to prosecute.
If the district attorney determines there is not evidence to file a criminal compliant the DA can either reject the case or leave the investigation open. If the case is rejected the accused will receive an official letter from the District Attorneys office stating the case has been officially rejected, meaning barring new evidence arising the office of the DA will pursue this matter. However, the DA can also refer the case back to law enforcement to continue the investigation of the matter. This means the accused must just wait, typically up to a year, for the prosecutor to either officially reject the case or file charges.
Once arrested, if the suspect remains in custody, the law requires that the individual be charged within 72 hours of the arrest. If the third day is a weekend or holiday, the rules allow the arraignment to take place the next court day. If no charges are filed within the 72hour court day period, the individual must be released.
Arraignment is the very first court appearance you will have in the case. It will be the first time you appear in front of a Judge and have the prosecutor officially serve you (or your attorney) with the complaint. The defendant will have the right to have the complaint and charges read to him in open court and also have the Judge advise him of his rights. The Judge will also ask the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. At this stage, typically a not guilty plea is always entered and the Judge will issue you a new court date to come back on. If the case is a felony case then usually a preliminary hearing setting date will be the next court date. If the criminal case is a misdemeanor then a pre-trial
On the arraignment date preliminary reports and some evidence is also prepared by the district attorney and handed over to the defense attorney. Also, at this stage a defendant can ask to be heard on bail.
Pre-trial Conferences and Plea Bargaining
Plea bargaining is merely a device that is designed to allow discussion among the attorneys and the judge, if necessary prior to trial. The negotiations and case preparation can help to narrow the issues that are presented at trial, or provide a resolution of the case before trial. Pre-trial conferences are the court hearings in which these discussions take place and pre-trial motions to exclude evidence can be brought by the defense. Cases can be resolved at any stage of the proceedings, even during the middle of trial. Generally, about 3 to 5 percent of cases do not get resolved and a full blown trial is conducted before a resolution is obtained. Either by way of conviction or acquittal.
Only in a felony case is there the added procedure called a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the D.A. must prove that the crimes were committed and that the Defendant committed them. The burden required to prove these facts is low and is not hard to provide at a preliminary hearing. In fact, the D.A. is encouraged to provide as little evidence as possible just to get the case past the preliminary hearing. The law allows for police with specific training and experience to speak on behalf of every witness that has personal knowledge of the facts of the case. These witnesses may be necessary for trial, but not at the preliminary hearing. The prelim is an important stage of the proceedings, however, because it allows the defense to test the efficacy of the People’s case and reveal weaknesses in the case overlooked by the D.A. The court can and will refuse to allow the case to continue if there is not enough evidence presented to convince the judge that there is a reasonable belief or suspicion that the crimes were committed by the defendant. If the D.A. is successful in convincing the judge there enough evidence to hold the defendant to answer to the charges, the case will proceed to an arraignment in Superior Court. These hearing occur only in Department 5 at the Central Justice Center. From there, the case can be resolved or is assigned to a trial court for further proceedings.
The trial is the readily recognized process where a jury of 12 registered voters from the community listen to the evidence and decide what happened. If the jury is convinced unanimously as the guilt or innocence of the defendant, the case will end. If the jury cannot decide unanimously, the case will revert back to the pre-trail stage and must be tried again within 60 days if a resolution cannot be reached. A trial without a jury is known as a court trial where the judge determines the facts of the case. A jury trial is not allowed for infraction offenses, juvenile cases, and some civil actions. Mr. Grupenhagen is a big proponent of the jury trial right in that it provides the greatest protection for criminal defendants to have a fair hearing in front of citizens that aren’t cynical and jaded by overexposure to the criminal law industry. In addition, criminal clients enjoy the protection of the highest burden of proof required in the law, that is unanimous proof beyond a reasonable doubt!
Once a person is convicted by way of either a plea of guilty, or no contest, or a verdict by a jury after trial, the case proceeds to sentencing. This is the time at which the attorneys provide information to the Judge to help the court decide what punishment is appropriate in the particular case. The law allows for the court to consider input from various sources to help make decision about punishment. Victims, probation, family, friends, sentencing experts, the D.A., and defense counsel can be heard at sentencing. In addition, post-trial motions may be brought at sentencing to send the case back to trial or to reduce or eliminate charges or “conduct enhancements” against the defendant.
Appeals and Post Conviction Motions
It’s not over ‘til it’s over, and then it probably isn’t really over. The criminal law allows for several legal methods to look back in the past and fix errors or problems with any of the decisions made by the judges in the case, or to go back and resurrect the case and bring it back to the punishment stage, the trial stage or earlier. A criminal appeal following a conviction must be filed within a short period of time or the right to appeal is lost. Delay is fatal to the right to appeal, because an individual convicted of a crime has less rights that a defendant whose case hasn’t been resolved yet. Appeals are costly and time-consuming affairs that require a high level of expertise and are statistically unsuccessful. Consult with our office if you want to discuss the possibility of an appeal you may be considering.
Unlike an appeal, post conviction motions are commonly brought and granted when an experienced criminal attorney is managing them. Knowledge of local courts and procedure is paramount in a motion to modify a sentence or a probation term. If the terms of punishment are unbearable, or impossible to perform, call our office right away so we can discuss strategies for alternatives or requests to modify your sentence.