Criminal Cases in the State of California all follow the same basic procedures. It’s important to know these 7 crucial criminal case steps to develop a successful defense strategy, and maximize the chances of winning, having the charges significantly reduced, or having the entire case completely dismissed.
Step 1: Bail
Bail is a payment made to the court allowing a defendant to be released from custody, and is returned once the case is completed and after the defendant appeared for all court dates. Courts will also accept real estate if its value is twice the set bail amount. Instead of paying the full bail amount directly to the jail, you have the option of using a bail agent. Usually they will charge a nonrefundable fee of 10% of the bail amount set by the court or police.
Step 2: Arraignment
The second step in a criminal case is a court appearance called an arraignment, in which the charges against the defendant are read before a judge. At an arraignment, a lawyer is appointed if the defendant cannot afford one, and the defendant’s plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest) is entered. Bail may also be set at the arraignment.
Step 3: Preliminary Hearing
The arraignment is followed by a preliminary hearing, in which a prosecutor presents evidence to a judge in an attempt to show that there is strong suspicion that a person committed a crime. If the judge is convinced that a strong suspicion exists, the defendant is ‘held to answer,’ and the prosecution proceeds to the trial court level. If the judge does not agree that the prosecution has demonstrated ‘strong suspicion,’ the charges are dropped.
Step 4: 2nd Arraignment (Superior Court)
Fourteen days after the defendant is ‘held to answer,’ he is arraigned in the trial level court of the Superior court. This hearing is the same procedure is the first arraignment.
Step 5: Pretrial Hearing & Motions
A motion is a request asking a judge to issue a ruling order on a legal matter. The pretrial is a hearing to resolve outstanding issues and it is often an appropriate time to attempt to settle or ‘plea bargain’ the case.
Step 6: Jury Trial
Both the prosecution and defense present evidence and call witnesses, in front of a judge and a twelve-member jury. The jury will examine the evidence and return a verdict. The judge will interpret the verdict for sentencing, according to state law.
Step 7: Appeal
An appeal is a way to challenge a jury’s verdict at trial. In an appeal, you cannot make new arguments, introduce new evidence or call witnesses. Instead, you challenge the decision made by a jury. Also, names and terms change, as the defendant in the previous trial is now called an appellant. To begin the appeal process, you must file a Notice of Appeal. It can’t be filed until the judgment, an official document stating the jury’s guilty verdict and judge’s denial of any post-trial motions, has been entered, and must be filed very soon after judgment is entered. Upon filing an appeal, you begin a process in the higher level appellate court. A judge generally makes their decision based only on the written briefs. In the end, if the appellate judge feels that the jury made a mistake, he or she can overturn the verdict.