California Criminal Process
Do you understand your Miranda Rights? The United States Supreme Court has ruled:
"The prosecution ... does not need to show that a waiver of Miranda rights was express. An implicit waiver of the right to remain silent is sufficient to admit a suspects statement into evidence. ... Where the prosecution shows that a Miranda warning was given and that it was understood by the accused, an accused's uncoerced statement establishes an implied waiver of the right to remain silent. ... Thus, after giving a Miranda warning, police may interrogate a suspect who has neither invoked nor waived his or her Miranda rights."
Arrest & Bail
The criminal process begins with the arrest. After a person has been arrested, he or she will typically be detained at a local or community police station and held until the time of arraignment and formal charges are filed. A bail amount is then set based on the most serious crime he or she is booked on. The defendant will then appear before a magistrate or judge within 72 hours of the arrest. California has a bail schedule which suggests the appropriate bail amount depending on the nature of the crime. In rare cases such as capital murder, the judge may choose not to set bail. The judge may refuse to set bail where a defendant has committed a probation violation. It is important to immediately retain a skilled criminal defense attorney who will be prepared to appear at the time of the arraignment and address the bail issue. Often, a skilled defense attorney will be able to secure a substantial reduction in the bail amount which may be the difference between freedom or detention pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings.
At the arraignment, the defendant will appear before the judge, where the judge will read the charges being brought against the defendant. After listening to a description of the charges, the defendant will then enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If the defendant pleads not guilty, which is usually the case, the judge will set a date for a preliminary hearing or probable cause hearing. Then, depending on whether the defendant is facing felony or misdemeanor charges, his or her case will move to either a pre-trial conference or a preliminary hearing. During the arraignment, the defense can also negotiate with the judge to have bail lowered or dropped completely. This is common in cases involving first-time arrests.
This meeting occurs between the defense and prosecution when the case involves misdemeanor charges. At this time, the defense can negotiate with the prosecution for a reduction or dismissal of the charges, or the defense can work with the prosecution to reach a plea bargain. Generally in a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for reduced penalties or sentencing. If an agreement of some sort can be reached during the pre-trial conference, then the case will not move to court, but rather be resolved during this part of the criminal process.
Preliminary hearings are held for cases involving felony crimes, and are slightly different than pre-trial conferences. At this hearing, the judge will review all evidence and hear witness testimony to determine whether or not sufficient evidence exists to send the case to trial.
A person charged with a felony has a right to a preliminary hearing within ten days of an arraignment. A preliminary hearing is an evidentiary hearing where witnesses testify and are subject to cross-examination by your defense attorney. At the conclusion of this hearing, a judge or magistrate decides whether sufficient cause exists to make the defendant stand trial. It is important to understand that the standard of proof at a preliminary hearing is not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, the standard of proof at a preliminary hearing is whether a reasonable suspicion exists or whether it is “more likely than not”.
The preliminary hearing stage of a criminal prosecution is critical and it is imperative that you retain an experienced attorney that will aggressively cross-examine all witnesses. Effective cross-examination at this hearing can highlight the weaknesses in the case and also provide a preview as to how the government may proceed at trial.
Additionally, an effective defense attorney may convince a judge to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing. Where this occurs, the government is precluded from seeking a felony conviction at trial on that particular charge.
Trial, Verdict & Sentencing
If the judge believes there is enough evidence to try a case, or if a plea bargain has not been reached, the case will move to trial, where both the prosecution and defense will have the opportunity to present and argue their cases before a judge and jury. At the end of the trial, the jury will convene and make a determination, based on the evidence and testimony presented during the trial, as to whether or not the defendant is innocent or guilty. If the jury finds the defendant not guilty, the trial ends there and the defendant is free to move on with his or her life. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing, where he or she will read the defendant their punishment for committing the crime.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are interested in scheduling a free consultation to discuss your criminal charges, please contact a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at Goldstein Law Offices today.