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Going To Trial in California

When a criminal case fails to resolve during pre-trial proceedings, it will typically proceed to trial. Going to trial can be overwhelming, if not traumatic and stressful. Don’t go through it alone. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, contact our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys.

The Criminal Court Process in California

Step 1: Arrest

The police will arrest a suspect if they witness a crime or have an arrest warrant issued by the court. When the police arrest an individual, the individual must be presented before a judge for an initial appearance (arraignment) within 24 hours. The person charged with a crime is referred to as the “defendant” and the person representing the people is referred to as the “prosecutor.”

Step 2: Arraignment

The first court appearance after an arrest is referred to as the “arraignment.” At the arraignment, the judge informs you of the charges. If you cannot hire a private attorney, the court appoints a public defender to represent you.

During the arraignment process, you can also enter a plea for your case. The most common pleas in court include:

  • A not guilty plea
  • A guilty plea
  • No contest

If you enter a “guilty” or “no contest” plea, your case proceeds to a sentencing hearing. A “not guilty” plea, which is the most common plea at the arraignment, further proceedings before the court, often referred to as “pre-trial conferences.” It is also possible to address bail at the arraignment.

Step 3: Preliminary Hearing

At the preliminary hearing, the judge looks at the evidence and hears testimonies from witnesses presented by the prosecution and the defense. A preliminary hearing primarily takes place to ensure there is enough evidence to hold you to answer for a crime.

At the preliminary hearing, the judge will consider:

  • Whether there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed
  • Whether there is probable cause to believe that you’re the person who committed the crimes

If the judge finds there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and you committed the crime, you will be “held to answer.” The case will then proceed to trial or you will enter a plea and proceed to sentencing.

Preliminary hearings are often referred to as “mini trials;” however, there are some notable differences. For example, police officers can sometimes present hearsay statements in court.

Jury Trial

California’s jury trial consists of 12 members of the public in the county in which the defendant allegedly committed the crime. The defendant’s counsel and the prosecutor will ask the prospective jurors questions related to their ability to render an impartial verdict. If counsel determines a juror is not suitable for trial, the juror will likely be excused. Once the jury is selected, the attorneys will make opening statements. The prosecution will then present their case, followed by the defense who will subsequently present their case. Once all evidence has been presented, counsel will make closing statements. Before a jury can convict anyone, they must  unanimously agree the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”