Fresno Criminal Lawyer Discusses How Criminal Cases Work

Mar 15, 2023

The Mitchell Law Group handles all major areas of criminal defense, both in State and Federal Court.  If you're faced with a serious felony or misdemeanor charge, and you're concerned about the impact on your life and livelihood, our Fresno Criminal Defense Lawyers will provide the dedicated defense you need to see you through his difficult period in your life. If charged, you may be wondering though, how do criminal cases work in California and what can I expect? Here are some steps the courts will follow.


CriminalLaw.jpgArrest - The defendant is taken to jail and either will be released if the prosecutor doesn’t file charges, able to post bail or released on a promise to appear in court for the arraignment at a later given date, or be forced to stay in jail. If charges are not dropped, this is the time the defendant’s lawyer needs to be contacted ASAP.  If your in jail, you have the right to a speedy trial, and you must be brought before a judge for your arraignment within 48 hours, excluding holidays and weekends.

Case Starts - A report is made of the events leading up to the arrest that provides witnesses’ names and other relevant information. Here’s where a lawyer is important.  A lawyer can contact the police and the DA's officer prior to the filing of criminal charges.  In fact, important information can be gathered ahead of time and can be presented to the District Attorney prior to the filing of charges.  This pre-filing window can be a critical opportunity to discuss the case with the DA in an effort to avoid the filing of criminal charges. You may think if it’s just a misdemeanor it won’t matter, but we strongly advise to still have a lawyer represent you. Then, the prosecutor will decide on the evidence given if charges should be filed, whether or not it's a felony, and if they want to match the charges on the report or not.

Arraignment - This is the first date in the court process.  A judge will tell the defendant what the charges are, the constitutional rights, and will explain if the defendant does not have enough money to hire a lawyer, the court will appoint a lawyer free of charge. Then the defendant will plead guilty, not guilty, no contest, or not guilty by reason of insanity. If in custody at the time the judge will either release you on your “own recognizance” and promise to show at the given court date, or set bail, or refuse bail and keep you in jail until your case is resolved. A few things play into this decision, and it’s best to have a lawyer by your side.

After the Arraignment - Misdemeanor and felony cases proceed a little differently.

With a misdemeanor before the trial, “discovery” happens where the prosecution and the defense exchange information. Here is also why it’s very important to have a lawyer represent you because as a defendant you will be only able to see limited information, but a lawyer has the right to see everything. It may sound unfair, but it’s for the protection of the witnesses. Both sides can then file a variety of pretrial motions, some examples include a demurrer (a motion to dismiss on the grounds the complaint is defective), a motion to compel evidence (if the DA or law enforcement is not providing evidence), and a supression motion if you were illegally searched or detained.  You may also at this time change your plea to guilty or no contest. The case may be settled at this time without going to trial, if the judge and lawyers on both sides can agree.  There may be several conference hearings prior to the settlement of your case.

In felony cases this is when the judge holds a preliminary hearing, and the judge will decide if there is enough evidence for a trial. The prosecutor will file a document called “the Information”, if enough evidence has been presented, which then the defendant will be arraigned a second time. “Discovery” happens where the defense and prosecution exchange information. Again, this is where a lawyer to represent you is very important as you may not be able to see all of the information provided. Then the same as in a misdemeanor case, pretrial motions happen, ability to change your plea happens, and possible discussions between the judge and lawyers on whether it can be resolved without a trial may happen.  Again, there may be many pre-preliminary hearing conferences leading up the actual preliminary hearing. 

Trial - You have the right to a jury of your peers, if you decide to have a jury trial. You can have a court trial without jurors, but usually defendants choose a jury trial as they want a jury of their peers to hear the evidence and decide their guilt. A lawyer would best counsel you on which way to go and there may be important factors involved. You are, however, innocent until proven guilty, and must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Also, it’s important to remember, you have the right to remain silent and that silence cannot be used against you.

Setting the Trial Date - For a misdemeanor case, if the defendant is in custody, the trial must start within 30 days of arraignment or plea, whichever is later. If the defendant is not in custody, the trial must start within 45 days of arraignment or plea, whichever is later. The defendant can waive the right to a speedy trial to have the trial after the required deadline aka “waiving time”, but even if the defendant waives time, the law says the trial must start within 10 days after the trial date is set. It is very important for defendants to get advice from an attorney before they waive time.

For a felony case, the prosecutor must file the Information within 15 days of the date the defendant was “held to answer” at the preliminary hearing. The trial must start within 60 days of the arraignment on the Information. Again, the defendant can “waive” the right to a speedy trial and agree to have the trial after the 60-day period of “waiving time”.

At Trial - The lawyers first choose a jury before the trial starts, which is called “voir dire”, and both sides will ask questions of the potential jurors to make sure the jurors will be fair and impartial. Then at the trial start, both sides have the right to give an opening statement about the case. During the trial, lawyers present evidence through witnesses who testify about what they saw or know. After all the evidence is presented, the lawyers give their closing arguments. Finally, the jury decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The jury must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Verdict - If the jury finds the defendant not guilty aka “acquittal”, the defendant will be released. You can’t be tried again for the same crime, which is called “double jeopardy.” A finding of not guilty simply means that the jury was not convinced that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The arrest will still show on your record, along with the acquittal.

If the defendant is found guilty, the defendant will be sentenced.

Appeal Process - If you are found guilty after a trial, you have the right to an appeal process. Talking with a lawyer is needed to do what’s best for your case here, there are many reasons for an appeal of a criminal case and can be very difficult along with important deadlines that apply. Again, misdemeanors and felonies are a bit different. The time frames to start the appellae process differ with both.  

If you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor in California, please contact us at once for a free consultation.

Category: Criminal Cases

Michael Mitchell

Michael Mitchell is a Fresno attorney who practices in the areas of DUI, personal injury & criminal law. Visit his Google+ profile.

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Mitchell Law Group, Inc.
334 W. Shaw Avenue, Suite A Fresno, CA 93704
Phone: 559-222-2424

Fresno Criminal and DUI Attorney
The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.  Testimonials displayed on this website do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter

Michael E. Mitchell, at the Mitchell Law Group, Inc., is one of the top DUI defense attorneys in Fresno, California. He has over a decade of experience handling DUI cases throughout the Central Valley, including in Clovis, Madera, Tulare, Visalia. He is a certified field sobriety instructor and practitioner under the standards of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and is a member of the California DUI Lawyers Association. His advice and knowledge is, routinely, sought after by other attorneys practicing in the area of DUI defense. He is an expert in the area of DUI defense in both Federal, State, and on the Appellate level. If you're looking for the best DUI Lawyer in Fresno to handle your case, give us a call today to see how we can put our knowledge to work for you.