The criminal court process is not designed to put a defendant at ease, and is complicated and difficult to understand for anyone unfamiliar with laws and legal procedure. Criminal defense attorneys, in addition to fighting for a defendant’s rights and the administration of justice, are there to guide the defendant through all the steps of the criminal process, and help him/her understand what is happening. Being arrested in and of itself is often overwhelming, and when one adds in the authority of a judge and the intimidating environment of the courtroom, the whole situation can quickly turn scary. However, having even a basic understanding of the criminal court process, and the steps of a criminal trial in particular, can help to demystify what is happening. The early stages of a criminal trial are specifically overpowering because everything happens so fast, and defendants rarely have adequate time to confer with an attorney. Consequently, an overview of the early stages of California’s criminal trial process will follow below.
The arraignment is the first time a person accused of crime appears in court. At this hearing, the judge will inform the accused about his/her Constitutional rights, including the right to a lawyer, and the nature of the criminal charges against him/her. In addition, the accused will have the opportunity to enter a plea in the case – guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Arraignments are held after the prosecutor files formal charges, and must occur within 72 hours of arrest, excluding weekend and holidays, if the person remains in police custody. If a person is released following arrest, the arraignment is supposed to take place “without unnecessary delay,” but given how backlogged the criminal system is in California, the hearing may not happen for weeks or months. Note that the 72-hour rule for those held in police custody applies regardless of whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony.
Bail is the amount of money a defendant must post with the court to ensure he/she will attend all court appearances. The issue of bail is commonly addressed at the arraignment hearing, but may be held as a separate proceeding if the defendant requests a reduction or elimination of the bail amount. The bail is set on a county-by-county basis and according to the type of offense. However, California lawmakers are working on reforms to the bail system that take into account how unfair it is to poor defendants. Typically, most people post bail through a bail bondsman. The bondsman agrees to pay the bail in exchange for a percentage of the bail amount. This fee is nonrefundable. When a judge assesses whether to modify the bail amount a number of factors about the accused’s past and character come into play. Courts look, in particular, at the following:
- the nature and seriousness of the alleged crime;
- past criminal history;
- the probability the accused will appear for future court appearances; and
- public safety.
Alternately, the accused can ask the judge to release him/her without posting any bail, termed on one’s own recognizance, or O.R. release. All defendants not accused of crimes punishable by death are entitled to release unless it would endanger public safety or fail to reasonably ensure the defendant will appear for future court dates.
If you are facing criminal charges, you need a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights, and fight for the best possible outcome. The Manshoory Law Group, APC represents clients in the Los Angeles area in a number of criminal matters, and is available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for a free consultation.