If you are new to the justice system, you might be expecting a quick turnaround from arrest to trial, like you see on TV. The reality is much different. There are a number of steps in the California court process, all with their own procedures, technicalities and timelines. In this article, we will highlight six of the primary steps in the California court process that you may encounter when you have been charged with a crime.
If you are facing criminal charges in San Diego, a qualified criminal defense attorney will be able to provide you with the right guidance to get you through the process. San Diego criminal defense attorney Joni Eisenstein can walk you through the process, discuss your defense options and help you get a positive outcome in your criminal case.
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An arraignment is your first appearance in court. A number of important procedures will occur during the arraignment, including:
- Meeting the judge and prosecution
- Reading of your rights, including your right to be provided an attorney if you cannot afford one
- Learning which charges have been filed against you
- Entering a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest
- Addressing the possibility of bail
If you do not yet have a San Diego criminal defense attorney, you do not have to give a plea at this time. The court can issue a continuance until you retain counsel. It is recommended that you avoid giving a plea without the assistance of an attorney, who can guide you to choose the right plea for your specific circumstances.
Once a plea is entered, the judge will address bail. Bail is an amount of money that is paid for your release from custody. It acts as a sort of insurance policy to ensure that the defendant will return to court for his or her future court dates.
A judge can release a defendant without bail, deny bail or set bail. If a judge does set bail, the amount will depend on a number of factors including the severity of the crime and the defendant’s history, likelihood that they will flee and their ties to the community. If you are unable to pay your bail amount, bail bondsmen can pay the balance of your bond for a fee.
The pre-trial process is where much of the work takes place. During this phase, the defense and prosecution will begin to build their cases. They will gather and share evidence and explore potential issues that may impact the validity of the case. Both sides may file motions to address potential legal issues, such as motions related to discovery, speedy trial and those to suppress evidence.
During the pre-trial process, a judge may determine that there is not enough admissible evidence to prosecute and decide to dismiss the case. Or, a judge and prosecutor may decide to reduce the charges based on the findings in the case.
If your case continues to the trial phase, you have two options: a court trial or a jury trial. A court trial, also called a bench trial, is where your case will be heard and decided by a judge. A jury trial is decided by a jury of your peers. In both kinds of trials, the defense and prosecution will offer their arguments, call witnesses for their testimonies and present evidence. A judge or jury must find that the prosecutor has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the judge or jury has found a defendant guilty of the charges, there will be a hearing after trial where the judge will hand down the sentencing decision. During this phase, both sides have the opportunity to present their recommendations for a fair sentence based on evidence, background of the defendant, victim impact statements and penalties from other similar cases. Upon hearing both sides, the judge can decide sentences including jail time, fines, penalties and even the death sentence.
A guilty verdict and a judge’s sentence are not necessarily the final steps in the process. A criminal defense attorney can file an appeal on behalf of a defendant if they determine that there are valid grounds for an appeal. Grounds for an appeal may involve mistakes made in jury selection or instruction, juror misconduct, sentencing errors or lack of evidence.
If you or someone you love has been arrested for a criminal charge in San Diego, contact the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein today. As an experienced criminal defense attorney practicing in the San Diego area, she can expertly guide you through the criminal court process and help you get the justice you deserve.
If you are on the fence about hiring a defense attorney, stop thinking about it, and do it now
Hiring a criminal defense attorney like Joni Eisenstein can help you go from a place of uncertainty to freedom.