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Criminal Court Process in California – What You Should Know

California criminal court process

The criminal court process in California progresses in an orderly fashion through different stages. Here’s what you should expect if you are arrested and charged with a crime in California:



The arrestee is taken into custody by law enforcement for an alleged criminal act. He or she is taken to jail, and one of the following things occurs:


  • The arrestee is released from custody after the prosecution elects not to bring charges.
  • The arrestee is released from custody on either a recognizance bond or payment of a cash bail bond.
  • The arrestee remains in jail and is transported to court to be arraigned.


Starting The Criminal Case

Should the prosecution elect to file charges, a decision will be made on whether to charge the arrestee with a single or multiple charges. Once charges are filed, the arrestee’s status changes to that of defendant. The defendant might be charged with multiple offenses that include both misdemeanor and felony charges. The general rule is that charges must be filed within 48 hours of the time of arrest.



When charges are filed, the arrestee’s status changes to that of a defendant. In the arraignment, the presiding judge advises the defendant of what they’re charged with, what it’s punishable by and their right to an attorney. The defendant will either plead not guilty, guilty or no contest. The judge might also set a recognizance bail without payment of money, require a cash bail to be paid to the court or have the defendant held without bail.


Misdemeanors After Arraignment

After arraignment, the prosecution and defense attorney exchange all information that might prove the defendant guilty or not guilty of the crime(s) alleged. Either side or both sides can file pretrial motions, and the defendant might even change his or her plea from not guilty to guilty or no contest. If that occurs, attempts will then be made to enter into a plea agreement to avoid an actual sentencing hearing.


Felonies After Arraignment

If a felony case isn’t disposed of after the arraignment stage, a preliminary hearing is held wherein a judge decides whether there is sufficient evidence to support the charge(s). Assuming the judge rules for the prosecution, the defendant is then formally charged with an instrument called an information, and he or she is arraigned again with another plea entered. The prosecution and defense exchange information like in misdemeanor cases, pretrial motions are allowed and the attorneys usually discuss how the case might be resolved without a trial.



If a criminal case isn’t resolved by dismissal or a plea, criminal law procedure in California requires the case to proceed to trial. The defendant has a right to persist in a plea of not guilty. In a jury trial, 12 people will determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

In a bench trial, the presiding judge will make that decision. The prosecution has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant is found guilty, the case is set over for sentencing. Although judges have certain sentencing discretion, their sentences are required to be within the parameters of California sentencing statutes. If found not guilty, the defendant is released from custody.


For all criminal related questions, contact our office at 818-848-5297 and schedule a free 15-minute consultation with an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney.

Contact our offices for more information about all types of criminal cases. We’re dedicated, experienced and aggressive criminal law attorneys. If you’re now facing, or if you believe that you’re going to be facing criminal court proceedings in California, you’ll want to take advantage of a free consultation with a California criminal law attorney who has over 20 years of courtroom experience. Your liberty, job and future could be at stake. You have the right to the best legal counsel available.




Note: Attorney advertising. Nothing posted on this blog is intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. Blog postings and hosted comments are available for general educational purposes only and should not be used to assess a specific legal situation. Nor does any comment on a blog post create an attorney-client relationship. The presence of hyperlinks to other third-party websites does not imply that the firm endorses those websites, their contents, or the activities or views of their owners.

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