Civilian Criminal Overview

Most cases start after someone is arrested.  Usually a case is filed within 72 hours of arrest if the person stays in custody.  If the person posts a bond and bails out, then the case may take up to three weeks to be filed.  The police officer who arrested you must submit a citation or a police report to the District Attorney's Office for review.  A deputy district attorney reviews your case and decides what charges, if any, to file.  The District Attorney's Office files a criminal complaint in court.

If you bailed out, you will get a date to appear in court.  If you are still in custody, the local sheriff will take you to court.  Either way, your first court date is called Arraignment.  You are entitled to be advised of the charges against you and advised of your Constitutional rights.  This is the time where you plead Not Guilty and deny all the allegations made against you.  The court may also entertain a bail review to set, lower, raise, or release you on your Own Recognizance. The court will set your next court date, usually called a readiness conference.  If the case is a misdemeanor, the court will also set your trial date.  If the case is a felony, the court will set your date for preliminary examination.

This is the time your lawyer meets with the district attorney and the judge.  Your case is discussed and the district attorney makes you an offer.  You can choose to accept or reject the offer.  The decision is yours and yours alone.  A good lawyer will advise you of your options, but should never force you into any decision.  Often, the case still needs some work and a continuance may be granted.  If you choose to reject the district attorney's offer, then your case proceeds to trial if it is a misdemeanor and to preliminary examination if it is a felony.

Originally designed as a brief hearing to weed out felony complaints lacking evidence, the preliminary examination is now a very important step in any criminal case.  A judge, called a Magistrate for the preliminary examination, determines the sufficiency of the evidence against you and may also consider a motion to suppress evidence.  The Magistrate must find three things, all necessary for your case to continue:  (1) That a crime was committed; (2) That the crime happened in the county where the complaint is filed; and (3) That there is some evidence identifying you as the perpetrator.  A skilled lawyer uses the preliminary examination to test the prosecutor's evidence and start laying the foundation for your potential defenses should your case go to trial.  Occasionally, an effective presentation at the preliminary examination may lead to dismissal of the case.

The prosecutor must convince 12 ordinary people that you are guilty BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. The prosecutor goes first, and puts on admissible evidence in an attempt to prove your guilt.  A skilled defense attorney will first try to stop the jury from hearing certain facts by objecting to all inadmissible evidence.  The defense attorney will also try to minimize the impact of the admissible evidence against you.  An important vehicle to attack the government's case is cross-examination of the government witnesses.  After the prosecutor's case, your attorney will put on the defense case.  The defense case will include evidence and the testimony of witnesses.  You will decide whether to testify in your own defense.  Once both sides present their cases, the case goes to the jury for verdict.

If the jury renders a not guilty verdict, the case is over.  If you are convicted or plead guilty, all is not lost.  Judges have a lot of discretion in punishment.  A skilled defense attorney will present you to the court in the most favorable light in order to get the most lenient sentence possible.  Good people make mistakes.  Your lawyer should help the judge see that you are a good person who does not deserve the worst sentence the government has to offer.  For misdemeanors, punishment may include: probation, jail time up to 1 year, public work service, volunteer work service, treatment, counseling, work furlough, and fines.  For felonies, the most important difference is that punishment may include state prison from 1 year up to Life or even the death penalty in the most severe cases.

A civilian criminal trial can have life impacting consequences.  White & Meeks LLP attorneys offer qualified professional assistance at this import juncture in your life.  We are uniquely staffed for coverage of both the military and civilian aspects of your case.  Call now for a free consultation.