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Sacramento County Criminal Law FAQs

What is alternative sentencing?

A jail sentence doesn’t always mean you will go to jail. Many counties have embraced alternative sentencing. Alternative Sentencing allows a defendant to fulfill his or her jail commitment without having to spend the night in jail.

Typically, the program is run through the Sheriff’s department and you must be approved by the Sheriff’s department to qualify. The court can recommend or find you are eligible for alternative sentencing, but the Sheriff’s department is the final decision maker.

Alternative sentencing typically consists of some type of work project or ankle monitoring. The work project can usually be completed on weekends. Most counties have a cap on the length of a sentence that can be served on alternative sentencing.

The biggest downside to alternative sentencing is the cost. Going to jail is free, but alternative sentencing charges a fee for each day of the sentence.

What is an arraignment?

An arraignment is the first court appearance. The purpose is to inform a person of the exact charges he or she is facing. Defense attorneys often pick up copies of the police reports at the arraignment and may receive an initial plea offer from the prosecutor.

If you are facing misdemeanor charges, then your attorney can appear at the arraignment (and pretty much all future court appearances) for you. If you are charged with a felony you will have to personally appear in court unless the court granted a waiver.

What is a pretrial conference?

A pretrial conference or a trial setting conference is a court appearance that comes after arraignment and before any motions or trial. There can be multiple pretrial conferences in every case. The attorneys typically use these conferences to work out a settlement to your case. Plea offers and evidence is often discussed at these court appearances. They also allow the court to keep tabs on the status of the case. If there is a plea agreement, then it will be completed at a pretrial conference. If there is no plea, then there will be no more pretrial conferences and the case will be set for trial.

What is a preliminary hearing?

Preliminary hearings are only held in felony cases. They are held to determine whether there is sufficient probable cause to hold the defendant over for trial. It is a hearing where the judge will determine whether there is anything to the case and decide whether the case should go forward or not.

Will I have to go to trial?

Whether you go to trial is entirely up to you. The District Attorney will make you an offer to settle your case early. The offer usually involves dismissing a certain count(s) in exchange for you agreeing to a punishment for the other count(s). If you do not like the offer, then you can set the case for trial. Trial carries with it the risk that the judge will give you a harsher punishment than what the District Attorney offered, but it also comes with the possibility that you will avoid any conviction. Your attorney should give you an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your case and recommend whether you should go to trial. Ultimately, the decision is yours.

What is informal or summary probation?

Summary probation, sometimes referred to as informal or court probation, is supervised by the court. Summary probation is usually imposed for misdemeanor cases and can last anywhere from one to five years depending on the crime committed.

The biggest difference between summary probation and “felony” or “formal” probation is that people on summary probation are not required to report to a probation officer. In most cases, you are free to travel and even move out of state while on summary probation. The important thing is to understand the terms of your probation and not violate any of those terms.

Summary probation is not authorized in felony cases. Both formal probation and summary probation (court probation) can be revoked if you violate any of the conditions of probation, including a new law violation.

What is a VOP?

VOP stands for Violation of Probation. Probation always comes with certain conditions. If you do not comply with one of the terms of probation, then a violation of probation can be filed. If a violation of probation is filed, you have the right to a hearing. The possible punishments depend on why you were on probation in the first place.

What are custody credits?

For most cases, custody credits can effectively cut your jail sentence in half. For every two days of actual time in custody, you are given two credits. Credits are not awarded unless the individual is given a sentence of four days or more so if you are given a three-day sentence, no credits will be awarded and all three days must be served.

For example, the district attorney is asking for 10 days jail as part of a plea to a DUI. With credits, you would only be required to serve 5 days. Anyone booked into jail will receive credit for the days he or she served. So, if you were booked on a DUI, then you likely have 1 or 2 days credit that will be subtracted from the 5 days you are required to serve, leaving you with 3 or 4 days.

These rules, however, do not apply to registered sex offenders, people serving jail time for a violent felony or people that have a prior serious or violent felony on their record.

I was contacted by police for an interview, what should I do?

You have a constitutional right to refuse to give an interview to the police. The exercise of this right cannot be used against you later in court. Even if the police promise that they won’t arrest you and are very nice to you, you have the right to remain silent and consult your Sacramento County criminal defense attorney.

Very rarely is it in your best interest to submit to a police interview. Despite what most police officers say, they are not merely “trying to get your side of the story.” They are looking for evidence to file charges against you. Often, the only real evidence that the police will get against you is your own statements. Do not give in to their requests.

If the police contact you, you need to contact a Sacramento County criminal defense attorney before you speak to them. This isn’t always easy, as most of us want to cooperate. However, many times the most important thing that you can do is not to speak to the police. Consult an attorney first, get professional advice, and determine how your statement might impact your position.

What do I do if I think the police are investigating me?

If you believe the police are investigating you, you need to contact an attorney and get professional advice. There may be things that an attorney can do to prevent you from being arrested and prevent charges from ever being filed. For instance, doing some investigation right away may prove that you are being falsely accused. Letting the attorney interface with law enforcement on your behalf is very important. Doing so can often prevent you from being arrested at your home or workplace which could significantly impact your reputation.

Don’t go through this alone. Talk to someone who knows the system. An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, and you can potentially save thousands of dollars by retaining a skilled Sacramento County lawyer before you are arrested.

What is bail and how do I post bail?

If you are arrested, or know that you are going to be, in most cases you are entitled to post bail and be released. In most counties, bail is set according to a “bail schedule.” Many counties have the bail schedule posted on the internet. Unless there is something unusual about your case, you can expect the bail to be at or near the schedule. If possible, making arrangements for bail before you are arrested will speed your release.

There are three ways to post bail:

  1. Put up cash with the court. The upside of this option is that at the end of the case you are fully reimbursed. The downside is that you have a large amount of money tied up for the duration of the case.
  2. Put up property. This requires that you have double the equity in the property or multiple pieces of property. For example, if bail is set at $100,000, then the total equity must be at least $200,000. You must prove this by a recent appraisal. What you are doing with a property bond is giving the Court a lien against the property. If you fail to appear in court, the Court may take the property. In situations where the bail is high, property bonds may be the way to go. It normally will cost several hundred to a couple of thousand dollars to obtain all the paperwork, appraisals and make the necessary court appearances. It may also take a week or so to secure the release.
  3. Use a bail bond company. The most common way to post bail is to go through a bail bond company. If you are represented by an attorney, most bail bonds companies will charge 8% of the total bail; if you are not, they will charge 10%. In our example of bail being set at $100,000, your fee to the bail bonds person will be between $8,000 and $10,000. Retaining an attorney will save you $2,000. Especially for low bail amounts, a bail bonds person is generally the best way to go.

For more information or answers to your specific questions, contact our Sacramento County criminal defense attorneys at (916) 943-4487.

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