What are the steps in a criminal case?

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorneys

Pre-filing Investigation

Before there is a criminal case, there is an investigation into potential criminal activity. Sometimes, the investigation is very brief, such as a traffic stop on suspicion of driving under the influence. In other cases, the investigation can last months or even years before charges are filed and arrests occur.

Filing a case and arrest

When the prosecutor—the District Attorney, the City Attorney, or the U.S. Attorney—believes their office has enough evidence, they will file charges against a person. This can be done by filing an information, or by obtaining an indictment from a grand jury. After charges are filed, an arrest warrant will be issued and law enforcement will arrest the individual.

When a law enforcement officer observes a crime being committed, the officer can arrest the individual immediately based on probable cause.

The defendant will either be taken into custody or given a notice to appear in court and released.

Arraignment and Bail

At arraignment, the court informs the defendant of the charges against him. The court will read the complaint and advise the defendant of important rights, such as the right to counsel and the right to remain silent. Then the defendant will enter a plea, either not guilty, guilty, or no contest.

The court will also determine whether bail will be granted and what amount to set (although some defendants will have already posted bail at the jail). For most cases, the court will set bail based on a “bail schedule” that sets bail amounts based on the charges and varies by county. The court can set the bail higher or lower than the schedule, but must have specific reasons for doing so. The issue of bail can be reopened but generally only if there are changed circumstances.

Pretrial Hearings

There are a variety of pretrial hearings that may occur in a case. Many simply update the court on the status of the case, usually with one side asking for a continuance, or extension of time. This is usually to conduct investigation, review evidence, or negotiate with the other party. Other hearings involve pretrial motions, discussed below.

Preliminary Hearing

In felony cases, the defendant is given a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a pretrial hearing where the judge determines whether there is probable cause to support the case against the defendant. A preliminary hearing is like an abbreviated “mini trial.” Generally, only the prosecution calls witnesses (although the defendant has the right to call certain witnesses); however, the defense is allowed to cross-examine those witnesses. Additionally, the witnesses are generally allowed to offer hearsay testimony. This means a preliminary hearing often only requires testimony from law enforcement officers.

When there is probable cause to support a charge, the defendant is “held to answer” and the case proceeds to trial. If there is not probable cause, the charge is dismissed. However, because double jeopardy has not attached, the prosecution can refile the charges at a later date, usually after additional investigation has uncovered more evidence.

Pretrial Motions

There are a variety of pretrial motions to challenge the case against the defendant. Some of these motions attempt to get the case, or certain charges, dismissed, usually because the evidence is insufficient or the government violated the defendant’s rights. Some motions attempt to suppress evidence or statements because they were obtained by violating the defendant’s rights. Additionally, many pretrial motions address disputes between the parties, such as a motion to compel the disclosure of evidence or continue the trial.

Before trial starts, the attorneys will attempt to determine what evidence will be presented to the jury. These pretrial motions are called motions in limine and are decided by the judge immediately before the trial starts. Both sides can submit motions asking the judge to allow or prevent certain evidence or testimony from being presented to the jury.

Change of Plea Hearings

A defendant may wish to change his plea prior to trial. This is usually because a favorable plea bargain has been negotiated. Although the parties may have agreed to a plea, the court must accept the plea. At the change of plea hearing, the court will advise the defendant of the rights he is giving up by entering a plea of guilty. The court must also be satisfied that there is a factual basis for the plea, usually by accepting the facts in a police report or by oral admissions by the defendant. The defendant will then enter a plea of guilty or no contest and is considered convicted of the charges.

Trial

Trial is where the case is presented to the judge or jury if the case is not resolved by a plea bargain. The prosecutor will present evidence against the defendant, including witnesses, documents, photographs or videos, and physical evidence. The defense attorney will cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. Then the defense will present its witness and evidence, and the prosecutor will cross-examine defense witnesses. Because the burden is on the prosecution to prove its case, the defense is not required to put on a case; if the defense thinks the prosecution hasn’t made its case, the defense can choose not to present any witnesses. Both sides will deliver closing arguments, summarizing the evidence and legal arguments that support their case, and the judge or jury will deliver a verdict.

Sentencing and Restitution

After a conviction at trial or guilty plea, the defendant must be sentenced. If the conviction is the result of a guilty plea, the sentence will often be negotiated with the prosecutor or judge before the plea. Otherwise, the prosecutor and the defense will make arguments to support the sentence they believe is appropriate. The judge will then make a decision, usually after receiving a report by the probation department. In California, most offenses will be sentenced by the court choosing either the low-, mid-, or high-range sentence listed in the statute. Some offenses have statutory mandatory minimum or maximum sentences.

If the offense caused monetary damage to the victim, such as stolen or damaged property or medical bills, the defendant may have to pay restitution.

Post-trial Motions

Even when after a defendant has been convicted and sentenced, the case may not be over. If there was an error during the trial, the defendant may appeal the case to reverse the conviction.

Post-trial motions include motions to withdraw the plea, motions to vacate convictions, or motions to reduce certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Additionally, after a defendant has completed probation, they may wish to clean up their record by expunging the case.

The Moaddel Law Firm fully understands the ins and outs of criminal cases.  Our Los Angeles defense attorneys know when to take your case to court or whether a plea bargain is in your best interests.  Speak with us right away and we can bring you up to speed as to your rights and legal options.

Reach out to our firm today by calling (877) 375-8188!

2017-06-15T15:32:54+00:00June 15th, 2017|Categories: Criminal Defense, Drug crimes, DUI Defense|0 Comments

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