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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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