Information on Adult Proceedings
It is of the utmost importance to hire the best attorney you can for all proceedings. At every step along the way an experienced attorney may be able to shorten the entire procedure and often prevent the filing of charges or lessen their severity. In Mr. Loewenstein’s 30 years of experience, he has been able to achieve remarkable results by preventing or lowering charges and/or creatively suggesting alternative sentences.
In an adult proceeding there are three categories of offenses:
Felonies: These are the most serious types of offenses. Felonies generally include violent crimes, sex offenses, and many types of drug and property violations. Punishment can range from probation to state prison. In most cases you must appear personally at all court proceedings.
Misdemeanors: These are less serious offenses which could result in probation, up to a year in county jail, fine or some combination. You do not usually have to appear in court, your attorney can appear for you.
Infractions: Infractions are the least serious offenses and are generally punishable by a fine. Motor vehicle violations are frequently infractions.
Once law enforcement suspects you of committing some kind of violation, the procedure is as follows:
1. Arrest. If an individual is cited it functions as an arrest, or alternatively, an arrest occurs when a person is actually taken into custody.
2. Bail. After an arrest, a bail amount is set. In order for the defendant to be released from jail, this bail amount must be satisfied, unless the person is being release OR (on their Own Recognizance) which is really a written promise to appear in court. Please see Bail under Frequently Asked Questions for a complete understanding of this subject.
3. Arraignment. Once the District Attorney’s office files charges, the defendant must appear in court for an arraignment. This is an opportunity for you to plead either not guilty, guilty or no contest to the offense charged. At this time, the police report can be obtained and a date will be set for the next appearance, which is called the pre trial. If you cannot afford a private attorney, a public defender will be appointed at this time. Bail issues will be considered at your arraignment.
4. Pre Trial. This is an opportunity for your attorney to meet with the Deputy District Attorney to try and negotiate your case. Often times a settlement, or plea bargain, can be reached. If no settlement is reached the pre trial may be continued to a later date, when efforts to settle the case will resume.
5. Preliminary Hearing. This occurs only if you are charged with a felony. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor you will proceed directly from pre trial to trial. In the case of a felony, a preliminary hearing is like a mini trial. It is designed to test the sufficiency of the evidence against you. The prosecution has the burden of proving that there is a reasonable suspicion a crime occurred and that you committed it. In other words, is there enough evidence to allow the DA to bring you to trial for the offense charged? This is a much lower standard of proof than that which is needed to convict you in a criminal trial, which is beyond a reasonable doubt. A preliminary hearing is done in front of a judge and each side can call witnesses. If the judge decides there is enough evidence to hold you to answer, another arraignment will be held at a later date on whatever charges have been proved at the preliminary hearing. You will plead not guilty or guilty at that arraignment and then can proceed eventually to set a trial date.
6. Trial. The standard of proof here is of the highest form, beyond a reasonable doubt. You are entitled to a jury trial but if you want, you can have a court trial before a judge only.
7. Sentencing After Trial. Sentencing occurs only if there is a guilty verdict and is a proceeding separate from the trial. At this time the judge decides what should happen to you. The Probation Department, your lawyer and the District Attorney can have input and suggest sentences to the judge. However, in the end, the judge and only the judge determines what sentence will be imposed.