Felony Criminal Process
The process first begins with the arrest of the suspect, later to the “defendant.” The police officers draft a report of the incident, including witness statements, personal observations, and physical evidence. The report is then forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for review in determining whether formal charges should be brought against the suspect.
The arraignment is the first appearance before the judge. The suspect, now defendant, enters a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. The judge will then inquire about bail or other issues that may be present at the hearing. In California, if a person is in custody and they have not bailed out, they must be brought before a judge within 48 hours for their arraignment or law enforcement must release them.
In California, every person has a right to a preliminary hearing within 10 court days of their arraignment. A preliminary hearing is a probable cause hearing where a judge listens to the evidence and makes a ruling whether sufficient evidence exists continue the case against the defendant. The evidentiary standard is extremely low and prosecutors often do not produce all their evidence during this hearing. If a defendant is “held to answer” a subsequent court date will be scheduled for re-arraignment on the information.
Arraignment on the Information
Similar to a defendant’s first initial court appearance, the “complaint” now becomes the “information.” A defendant here enters a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If a defendant pleads not guilty, their attorney will schedule another court date for pretrial. At this stage of the case, a defendant has a constitutional right to have a jury trial within 60 days of this date.
The pretrial stage of the case includes filing motions to dismiss, motions to suppress evidence, and obtaining additional discovery. Additionally, the defense attorney and the prosecutor often meet to resolve the case that’s advantageous to both sides. If both sides cannot come to a resolution, the judge will issue a date for jury trial.
Trial consists of 12 individuals sitting before the court to listen to the evidence and subsequently render a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If all 12 jurors are unable to reach a unanimous decision, the judge will issue a mistrial and the prosecutor will have to determine whether to continue prosecuting the case or dismiss the accusations completely.