San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Explains PC 977

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For many defendants, having to go to court may be a daunting source of anxiety. For others, it may be impossible to get out of other obligations in order to attend. Fortunately, § 977 of the California Penal Code allows certain defendants to avoid court, as long as they send counsel. The licensed attorney may appear in court on the defendant’s behalf, and the Penal Code even allows the attorney to enter or change a plea, set subsequent hearings, and negotiate or finalize plea agreements. Although the very purpose of an arraignment hearing is to give the defendant an opportunity to be present, some defendants may wish not to attend. Additionally, people are often charged with a crime in San Diego who do not reside in San Diego.  An arrest that takes place on vacation may be handled without your personal presence if you have an attorney who can represent you in court.  It is our job to best protect your rights and interests.  Sometimes this includes appearing in court on your behalf so that you can continue to attend work or school and take care of other obligations.  Here is a breakdown § 977, which governs when a defendant does not have to go to court:

PC 977(a) says that only those charged of a misdemeanor may appear by counsel unless the defendant falls under one of the statutory exceptions, which require the defendant to be present. Some misdemeanors do require that the defendant be present. One such misdemeanor is an offense involving domestic violence. In this case, the defendant must be present for the arraignment and the sentencing, and at any time the court needs to inform the accused of the conditions of a protective order against him or her.

Other misdemeanor exceptions in which the accused must appear in court is a driving under the influence-related (DUI) offenses. The court may order the defendant to be present for arraignment, or during a plea or sentencing. The offenses under this DUI exception include: gross vehicular manslaughter, reckless driving, or causing bodily injury to anyone other than the driver.

As a general practice, judges are apprehensive to allow a defendant’s absence to clear a bench warrant, even in a misdemeanor case, unless there is a strong and persuasive excuse for why the defendant is not present. This demonstrates the importance of going to court when required to be present, or at least having counsel present in cases where a § 977 is permissible.

PC 977(b) applies to those charged with a felony. Unlike PC 977(a), which allows most defendant charged with a misdemeanor to be present through counsel, those charged with a felony must be present. This includes: at the time of a plea, the preliminary hearing, portions of the trial when evidence is offered before the judge or jury, and at sentencing. The defendant must be present at all proceedings unless the court grants a waiver. The written waiver must be done with leave of court, executed in open court, and signed by the defendant and defendant’s counsel, and then filed with the court. The initial court appearance, arraignment, and plea may then be done by video. However, it’s important to note that the court may still require the defendant to be present at any specific proceeding, including those listed above. PC 977(b)(2) provides the form in which the waiver should be written.

The court also has the power to allow an initial court appearance and arraignment of the defendant to be conducted via audio video, unless the defendant was indicted by a grand jury

Finally, the court can compel attendance in felony cases where the defendant fails to appear on a fixed date and place for arraignment. PC 978 and 979 allow for bench warrants to be issued when the defendant fails to appear to court.

IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAS BEEN ARRESTED OR CHARGED WITH A CRIME AND MUST NOW FACE CHARGES IN COURT, CONTACT US NOW FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.  IN MANY CASES, WE CAN ARRANGE FOR YOU TO NEVER HAVE TO SET FOOT IN THE COURTROOM.


By Lauren Noriega
www.iDefendSanDiego.com
619-930-9515
FREE CONSULTATIONS
 


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