A criminal defense lawyer who practices in California must be keenly aware of the process by which a case goes from arrest to conclusion. All criminal defense attorneys are not created equal. Some lawyers dabble in criminal defense, and these lawyers will attempt to handle virtually any case that comes through the door. The Kavinoky Law Firm is dedicated to the defense of criminal cases. That is all we do. If you have been accused of a crime and need a criminal defense lawyer whose concentration is not diverted into other areas, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.
The process by which a criminal case will proceed to conclusion will depend upon whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is that a misdemeanor can be punished by up to one year in county jail, or maximum fine of $1000, or both. The punishment available in a felony case may be probation with county jail time; however, in a felony case, punishment may include term in state prison or years or decades, or even the death penalty in certain types of murder cases. It is the range of punishment available which determines whether a case is considered a felony or a misdemeanor.
Misdemeanor criminal cases begin when a criminal complaint is filed. The prosecutor, whether a city attorney or a district attorney, will file a complaint upon their review of various police reports that are written by the arresting agency. The first court appearance is the arraignment, and this is where the accused is formally put on notice of the charges against him or her, and provided with copies of the various reports which purportedly support the charges.
Following the arraignment, there is what is loosely referred to as the pre-trial phase. During this phase, the criminal defense attorney should be filing a variety of motions to aggressively defend his or her client. These motions may include Discovery Motions, where additional reports or evidence is sought from the prosecutor or members of the prosecution team, including law enforcement. Other types of motions include Motions to Suppress Evidence, where evidence has been illegally seized or is the fruit of an illegal search. It is also common to file a Pitchess Motion, where the criminal defense lawyer is seeking the contents of the arresting officer’s private personnel records to determine whether others have made complaints for dishonesty, excessive force, or bias.
At the end of the pre-trial phase, the case will either be dismissed, settled pursuant to a plea bargain, or set for trial.
Trial in a misdemeanor case is no different than any other criminal trial. It begins with jury selection, and proceeds to opening statements, examination and cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses, presentation of the defense case (if any), closing arguments, and jury deliberation. In order to be convicted of a misdemeanor, all twelve jurors must agree that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If even one juror votes that he or she has a reasonable doubt in the integrity of the prosecution’s case, a “hung jury” will result. A “hung jury” results in a mistrial, and the possible dismissal of criminal charges.
Felony cases proceed a little differently. In a felony criminal case, a complaint is filed and the defendant is arraigned, just as in a misdemeanor case. However, following the arraignment, the accused in a felony case is entitled to a Preliminary Hearing. A Preliminary Hearing is a “mini-trial” which is held in front of a judge, not a jury. The judge in the Preliminary Hearing determines whether there is enough evidence to allow the case to proceed to trial. The Preliminary Hearing is a safety net to ensure that those accused do not languish in custody awaiting trial on cases with insufficient evidence to support that. It is a critically important aspect of the case for both the defendant and the criminal defense attorney, as it provides an opportunity for cross-examination of witnesses prior to trial that is not afforded in misdemeanor cases.
Following the Preliminary Hearing, if the defendant is held to answer for trial, a series of pre-trial conferences and motions are scheduled, and then the case will proceed to trial if not settled. Just as described above with respect to a misdemeanor trial, in a felony trial the prosecutor has the burden to prove his or her case beyond a reasonable doubt, to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt, or else the defendant is entitled to a judgment of not guilty.
If you, or someone you care about, has been charged with a crime, it is vitally important that you consult with a criminal defense lawyer who is aware of the criminal process, and who can zealously represent your interest. Darren Kavinoky is a criminal defense lawyer whose practice is entirely devoted to criminal defense cases. Please feel free to contact The Kavinoky Law Firm for a free consultation at no obligation to you.