Glendale Criminal Defense Attorneys
The California and U.S. Constitutions guarantee a handful of rights to persons accused of a crime to ensure that they receive a fair trial and have the opportunity to defend themselves in court. Many of these rights can be waived, however, and an unrepresented person is basically at the mercy of the judge and prosecutor who are expertly trained in the law and criminal procedure. Having a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney advise and represent you is the best way to protect your rights and achieve the best outcome possible under the circumstances.
Types of Crimes
Crimes and public offenses in California are divided into three categories: Felonies, Misdemeanors and Infractions. These categories are broadly defined by the types of punishments which can be incurred, and then specific statutes describing each crime classify what type of offense it is. To know the exact category and potential punishment for an offense, you have to see the statute for that particular crime, although the following provides a general guide:
Felony – Felonies are generally defined as crimes which are punishable by death or imprisonment in state prison for a year or more or in the county jail for more than a year. Many drug offenses, sex crimes, crimes of violence and major theft offenses are felonies. There are different classes of felonies, each of which have a different range of potential punishment.
Misdemeanor – Generally speaking, a misdemeanor is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and/or a sentence in the county jail for up to six months. Misdemeanor crimes are usually of a lesser degree or less serious nature than felonies. For instance, shoplifting and theft are misdemeanors depending upon the value of the property involved; indecent exposure may be a misdemeanor where there is no force or threat and a minor is not involved; and simple possession of a small amount of marijuana can be charged as a misdemeanor offense. Driving under the influence (DUI) is usually a misdemeanor, although several factors can raise it to a felony, including having multiple previous offenses or causing injury or death while driving.
Infraction – Infractions are punishable by fines up to $250; you cannot be jailed for an infraction. However, while the penalties are less serious for infractions, they are also easier to prove than criminal offenses and harder to defend against, because you do not have the full range of constitutional rights and protections that you have when you are charged with a crime. For instance, you cannot demand a jury trial for an infraction and in most cases cannot have a public defender appointed, although you can retain your own attorney to represent you. Most traffic tickets or moving violations are classified as infractions.
The prosecutor (county prosecutor, district attorney, state attorney) has the power to decide what charges to file in any particular case. Often times an offense may be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor at the discretion of the prosecutor, or as a more serious crime within that category, such as a Class C felony instead of a Class D felony. An experienced defense attorney with a good working relationship with prosecutors may be able to convince the prosecutor to file a less serious charge, if brought in at an early stage in the criminal procedure process.
There are many stages of the criminal legal process, and legal assistance can prove invaluable at every stage. The first stage after an arrest is the Arraignment, which generally will take place within 48 hours of the arrest. At the arraignment you will be able to enter a plea such as guilty, not guilty or no contest (usually not guilty). Bail is also set at the arraignment, and your next court date will be set then too. Your attorney may be able to get you released without bail being required or at least argue for a low bail amount. Many bail bonds services also charge a lesser fee to persons represented by an attorney. Bail is not allowed in every case.
At any time that you are in custody, you can be questioned or interrogated by law enforcement. You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions, and you have the right to consult with an attorney or have one present before any questioning. It is in your best interests to always exercise these rights and never agree to answer any questions until you have spoken with a lawyer.
Between the arraignment and the trial, there is a period of discovery where each side may be able to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the other side’s case. The defendant’s lawyer may be able to access more evidence than the defendant could alone, because some material could be kept from the defendant to protect witnesses’ rights. In a felony case, there will be another hearing, called a preliminary hearing, where the judge will decide whether there is enough evidence against the defendant to have a trial. The case can be dismissed at this hearing.
Pre-trial motions may be filed before the trial, including motions to dismiss the case and motions to suppress evidence from being introduced at trial. Plea bargaining can also take place at this stage, and it may be in the defendant’s interests to plead guilty to a lesser offense in order to receive a lighter sentence or probation, instead of risking a trial.
If the case goes to trial and the defendant is convicted (found guilty), the defendant has a right to appeal the verdict or judgment to a higher court. In this situation, it is wise to contact an attorney who is experienced in criminal appellate work, as the process is somewhat different than the trial level.