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What Happens in Court?

Answers From a Fresno Criminal Defense Attorney

Have you been arrested in Fresno, Madera, Tulare, or Kings County? What happens in Court after you are arrested? The courtroom process and proceedings can be complicated, and include the following;


Arraignment

For any misdemeanor or felony, the first court proceeding is the arraignment. After a person is arrested and charged with a DUI or other crime, the defendant is presented with the charges against them. At that time, they are also advised of their right to a trial by jury or judge, the right to an attorney, and that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty, etc. They are then given the details of the Complaint against them, and bail amounts are set. The judge will also set any conditions on bail, depending on the nature of the charges. Once bail is set, it is up to the defendant to post bail money in order to get released. Because many bail bond companies will offer discounts to defendants who hire a private attorney, it is recommended to contact an attorney first. Sometimes an attorney can even manage to have a defendant released without requiring bail on their own recognizance, which can save the defendant or their family a lot of money.

The remaining pretrial procedures will be determined by whether the charges against the defendant are categorized as misdemeanor or felony charges.


Misdemeanor Arraignment

During an arraignment for misdemeanor charges, the defendant may be given the chance to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If they plead guilty or no contest, they may be sentenced immediately, or their case may be rescheduled for sentencing in order to allow the probation department sufficient time to provide a pre-sentence report which includes information about the defendant, the crime charged, background information, and make recommendations for sentencing. Alternatively, if the defendant enters a plea of NOT guilty, the pretrial conference will be scheduled.


Pretrial Proceedings

Depending on the complexity of the case, a lot can take place before trial. The judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney may enter into discussions about the case, and try to possibly resolve the matter before it even gets to trial. The case may require a number of pretrial hearings regarding constitutional issues, such as search and seizure or identification. These issues come before the court by way of "motions," produced by the prosecution or defense attorneys. After review of the motions and argument, the judge will determine how the motions will be decided prior to trial.


Felony Arraignment

During a felony arraignment, the defendant will be presented with the charges against them, and enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. They are then notified of their right to a preliminary hearing within the next 10 days.


Preliminary Hearing

During the preliminary hearing, also known as a "probable cause hearing," the prosecutor will present witnesses in order to convince the court that there is probable cause that the defendant committed the crime charged against them. The burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is much lower than the burden required to convict. At this point, the defendant's attorney can cross-examine the witnesses, and offer evidence in support of the defendant's case. If the judge determines that there is probable cause, the defendant's case is then "bound over" for trial. However, if the judge determines probable cause does not exist, the charges can be dismissed, or further reduced to a misdemeanor.


Next Arraignment

The defendant has another arraignment after the defendant is "bound over" for a felony trial. They are given a formal notice of all the charges against them. They are again advised of all their constitutional rights, and enter their formal guilty or not guilty plea.


Pretrial Proceedings

Similar to misdemeanor cases, the court will then be required to determine any pretrial issues. The judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney may enter into discussions about the case, and try to possibly resolve the matter before it even gets to trial. The case may require a number of pretrial hearings regarding constitutional issues, such as search and seizure or identification, which come before the court by way of "motions," produced by the prosecution or defense attorneys. After review of the motions and argument, the judge will determine how the motions will be decided prior to trial.


Trial

If the case is not resolved, it will be set for trial. During the trial, the prosecutor presents evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They prove their case by calling witnesses and present evidence. The defendant may then challenged the validity and credibility of the evidence presented by the prosecutor. The defendant as well as the prosecutor have the right to request a trial by jury, although they can decide for a court trial instead, tried before a judge. After all the evidence is presented by both sides, the jury or judge will make a determination as to whether or not the defendant is guilty of the crime charged.


Pre-Sentencing Report and Investigation

Prior to sentencing, the probation department will prepare a pre-sentencing report which provides a summary of the crime, the defendant's personal background, and any criminal background. The probation officer will then provide a recommended sentence. The victim may also get the chance to give a recommendation on sentencing.


Sentencing

In California, the length and terms of the sentence will depend on the crime. This is a very complicated and confusing part of the criminal justice process. Many times, the judge has discretion when it comes to sentencing. The judge will consider the pre-sentence report information and recommendations. Both the prosecutor and defense attorney may correct errors in the report, or offer additional relevant evidence. The judge will then consult the California Rules of Court "sentencing guidelines" to determine the minimum prison time. Additionally, the judge can consider alternatives to jail time, such as a fine, community service, probation, or a combination of penalties.

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