San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Explains the California Criminal Justice Process

San Diego Criminal Lawyer
This article provides an overview of the California criminal justice process, particularly how courts in San Diego County deal with both felony and misdemeanor charges.  The article is intended to give you a better understanding of the procedures and various stages of a criminal case in San Diego, including arrest, investigation, and court proceedings.  The article is NOT, however, meant to serve as a substitute to representation by an experienced San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney.  To be clear, it is important to have an attorney on your side, preferably as early as you know that you may face arrest, be under investigation or must appear in court.  If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint the public defender.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime in San Diego, contact The Loncar Law Firm for a Free Consultation with a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney and DUI Lawyer.  619-930-9515.

FELONY CASES

EXAMPLES INCLUDE:
DRUG SALES, MARIJUANA CULTIVATION, BURGLARY/ROBBERY, CARJACKING / AUTO THEFT, FIREARM OFFENSES, HOMICIDE, ATTEMPTED MURDER, SEX CRIMES, GANG OFFENSES, WHITE COLLAR CRIME, FELONY DUI and more.

POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES:
Prison, Felony Probation (Formal/Reporting Probation), Fines, Work Furlough, Work Release, Loss of Firearm Rights, Immigration Consequences, etc.

SEQUENCE OF A FELONY CASE:
Arrest and Investigation - In many felony cases, the arrest may be made well after a crime has been completed, investigated by a detective, and an arrest warrant issued. Felony arrests can also be made at the time of the offense, and then additional investigation may be needed after the fact.

Arraignment - After the District Attorney's office files a criminal complaint, charging the defendant with a crime or crimes, the defendant is informed of the charges, advised of his/her constitutional rights and will enter a plea.  Though offers are sometimes made at arraignment, typically represented defendants will enter a Not Guilty plea at this stage.  Bail is also typically set at arraignment, and  the court may release a defendant "O.R." (own recognizance).

Preliminary Hearing Setting - The next court date after arraignment (unless a bail motion is sought), usually will be a preliminary hearing setting date in San Diego.  At this stage, the parties will exchange additional discovery, negotiate a possible disposition ("plea bargaining").  If the defense needs to conduct additional investigation or wishes to have more time to negotiate with the prosecution or show mitigation, multiple prelim setting dates may be set.  As the name suggests, a preliminary hearing will be set if no disposition is reached.

Preliminary Hearing - The preliminary hearing is often described as a mini-trial, where the prosecution must meet a lower burden of proof, and show that good cause exists that a crime took place and that the defendant is guilty, motions (e.g. to suppress evidence) may be heard at the preliminary hearing.

Trial Arraignment / Arraignment on the Information - The initial charging document is the complaint, and the defendant is arraigned on those charges at the first court date.  Whatever charges stick after the preliminary hearing


Pretrial Conference - the parties can continue to negotiate a disposition, exchange discovery, investigate evidence, and prepare for trial. 

Jury Trial - The prosecuting attorney and defense attorney will argue pretrial motions (motions in limine), pick a jury (voir dire), deliver opening statements, present evidence, call witnesses, cross examine witnesses and make closing arguments to the jury.  The jury will then be instructed on the law and asked to deliberate.  If the defendant is found guilty, sentencing may proceed immediately or be set for a future date.  If the jury find the defendant Not Guilty, the defendant is acquitted of the charges and released.

MISDEMEANOR CASES

EXAMPLES INCLUDE:
DUI
, DRUG POSSESSION, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, UNLICENSED DRIVER/SUSPENDED LICENSE, HIT AND RUN, PETTY THEFT, PUBLIC INTOXICATION / UNDER THE INFLUENCE, and more.

POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES
County Jail, Summary Probation ("Court Probation"), Fines, Community Service, Loss of Driver's License, etc.

SEQUENCE OF A MISDEMEANOR CASE:

Arrest and Investigation - Most misdemeanor arrests are made after a misdemeanor offense is committed in the presence of an officer, or by citizen's arrest (common in shoplifting and vandalism cases).

Arraignment - After the City Attorney's office files a criminal complaint, charging the defendant with a misdemeanor crime or crimes, the defendant is informed of the charges, advised of his/her constitutional rights and will enter a plea.  Though offers are sometimes made at arraignment, typically represented defendants will enter a Not Guilty plea at this stage.  Bail is also typically set at arraignment, and  the court may release a defendant "O.R." (own recognizance).

Pretrial Conference - the parties can continue to negotiate a disposition, exchange discovery, investigate evidence, and prepare for trial.  Because misdemeanor cases do not have a preliminary hearing or preliminary hearing setting dates, there may be multiple continuances of a pretrial conference to allow for additional investigation and negotiation.

Jury Trial -
The prosecuting attorney and defense attorney will argue pretrial motions (motions in limine), pick a jury (voir dire), deliver opening statements, present evidence, call witnesses, cross examine witnesses and make closing arguments to the jury.  The jury will then be instructed on the law and asked to deliberate.  If the defendant is found guilty, sentencing may proceed immediately or be set for a future date.  If the jury find the defendant Not Guilty, the defendant is acquitted of the charges and released.

NOTES ON MISDEMEANOR CASES:

  • There is no preliminary hearing in misdemeanors
  • There is only one arraignment in misdemeanors
  • The jury trial process is very similar in misdemeanor and felony cases.
This page provides a brief overview of the California criminal justice system.  For specific information about different types of crimes, visit our PRACTICE AREAS page.  Additionally, please take a look at our CASE RESULTS page for a snapshot of some of our firm's recent successes in criminal cases.  CONTACT The Loncar Law Firm now for a Free Consultation.

This page does not address Federal law.  More information about Federal Criminal Defense in San Diego.
Nicholas M. Loncar, Esq.
THE LONCAR LAW FIRM
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney
San Diego DUI Lawyer
www.iDefendSanDiego.com
T: 619-930-9515
F:
619-930-9516
By Nicholas Loncar    
 


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