Being charged with a crime is a frightening, stressful, and confusing experience, particularly if the defendant has never been arrested and doesn’t know what to expect from the justice system. It’s never easy to confront criminal allegations as a defendant or the family member of a defendant, but the more you and your loved ones understand about California’s criminal court process, the better prepared you will be. Toward that end, this legal guide provides a simple overview of how criminal cases work in California, explaining each stage of the process one step at a time. If you or one of your loved ones has been charged with a felony or misdemeanor in Ventura County or the surrounding area, it is essential to work with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal attorney who has experience handling the charges against you. At the Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC, our highly accomplished team of defense lawyers brings over 20 years of experience to each case we work on. With more than 250 trials behind us, we have built a reputation as innovative and aggressive litigators in the field of criminal law. Call our law offices right away at (805) 643-5555 for a private legal consultation completely free of charge. Your information will be kept confidential.
The CA Criminal Court Process: How Misdemeanor and Felony Charges Work
Contrary to what TV shows and movies often depict, trial is only one stage of a longer process. The full procedure depends on whether a person is charged with a misdemeanor or felony, but in all cases, the first appearance is customarily the arraignment.
An arraignment is a criminal proceeding where the defendant enters a plea of either guilty, not guilty, or no contest. The arraignment takes place on the day you are notified of the charges in court, or it can be continued to a later date. Many people continue their arraignment in order to get more information about their case and make a more educated plea. Once you plead not guilty in a misdemeanor case, a trial date will be set. In some counties, defendants can get a pretrial hearing prior to their trial date. You are entitled to a trial date 45 days from your arraignment if you are out of custody, or within 30 days if you are in custody. You can continue beyond that time period with your consent.
Preliminary Hearing (Felonies)
Like misdemeanor cases, the first appearance in felony cases is the arraignment. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a preliminary hearing will be set. In preliminary hearings, the court determines the likelihood that defendant committed the offense, but does not return an actual verdict. The preliminary hearing or “prelim” is meant to safeguard against warrantless or groundless charges. In most Southern California courts, a hearing date will be set prior to the preliminary hearing to discuss if there is a way to resolve the case before it goes any further.
Pretrial Hearing and Trial
If the court finds that there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial, an arraignment will be set on the information. The information is the document in felony cases that lists the charge(s). The guilty or not guilty plea is entered at the arraignment on the information. If a not guilty plea is entered, a pretrial hearing and a trial date will be set.
What Happens if I Miss a Hearing?
No one enjoys appearing in court. For most defendants, it’s a nerve-wracking, alien environment they would rather avoid. Nonetheless, it is of the utmost importance that you appear, on time and appropriately dressed, for every single one of your court dates. We cannot emphasize this point enough. If you fail to appear for a court hearing which you are required to attend, there can be serious legal repercussions. Failure to appear (FTA) in California can result in the following consequences:
- California Penal Code Section 1320 – This statute makes it a misdemeanor for defendants who have been (1) charged with misdemeanors and (2) released on recognizance (ROR) – a special type of cost-free bail – not to appear in court. If the defendant was charged with a felony, FTA is a felony, subject to fines up to $5,000 and/or up to one year in jail.
- California Penal Code Section 1320.5 – This statute makes it a felony for defendants who have been (1) charged with a felony and (2) released on bail not to appear in court. Defendants can be fined up to $10,000 and/or sentenced to one year in jail.
In other words, FTA is a crime in and of itself, in addition to the crime the defendant has already been charged with. Furthermore, a prior record of FTA can create difficulties for the defendant if he or she is ever charged with another crime in the future. A criminal conviction can result in costly fines, years of incarceration, and a permanent criminal record, which can create ongoing obstacles when it comes to finding employment, obtaining professional licenses, or even being approved for certain types of loans. If you or one of your loved ones was charged with a misdemeanor or felony in Ventura County or the surrounding counties, you need to act quickly to fight the allegations against you. To discuss your case in a free and confidential consultation with an experienced California defense attorney, call the Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC at (805) 643-5555 today.