California Criminal Court Process
Arraignment Hearing – First Court Appearance
Your arraignment will be your first appearance in court whether or not you are in custody. You are formally advised of the charges against you and your constitutional rights. Your criminal defense lawyer will receive a formal complaint that states the charges that have been filed against you.
In most cases, if you are in custody, BAIL will be set. The purpose of the bail is to assure your attendance in court. Your San Diego defense attorney will argue for a reduction in bail, or more commonly, your release on your “own recognizance,” meaning your promise to appear. Some factors a judge will consider include the following: your risk of flight, your length of time in the community, your family ties to the community, your prior record or lack thereof, any failures to appear prior, the nature of the charges against you, and if you pose a danger to the community. Be aware, there are some offenses where no bail is allowed.
At your pre-trial conferences, your attorney will meet with the judge and the prosecutor in chambers to discuss possible resolutions in the case. Here, both sides are presented and the judge weighs in with his/her thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the case. The case is then either plea bargained to a favorable disposition for you, or set for preliminary examination/trial.
If you were charged with a felony, a preliminary hearing will be held to decide if there is sufficient evidence to support the charges against you. The standard of proof is quite low, unlike guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Although your attorney has the opportunity to present your case at this time, for strategic purposes, this is usually not done. Rather, your attorney will use the hearing as an opportunity to knock holes in the prosecutor’s case by cross-examining their witnesses, often times generating inconsistent testimony. In some instances, your defense attorney can get the case dismissed at this hearing.
If no disposition is reached on your case, it will be set for trial. A jury of twelve impartial individuals is selected to hear the evidence in your case. At trial, both the prosecution and your San Diego defense attorney make opening statements, present evidence and witnesses, cross-examine opposing witnesses, and make closing statements. The jury will then be presented the matter for deliberation. They must unanimously agree beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the charges filed against you in order to convict you. If they cannot agree, a mistrial is declared.
If you accept a plea bargain or are found guilty after trial, the case is set for sentencing. At this hearing, the judge decides the applicable sentence after hearing from both the prosecutor and your defense attorney.