Criminal court can overwhelming for anyone facing misdemeanor or felony charges, and you need to understand the basics of how the criminal court process works and what to expect even before you hire a criminal lawyer. No matter what type of misdemeanor you may be charged with (DUI, petty theft, domestic violence), the process is the same. If you are charged with a felony (drug possession, fraud, white collar crime) the process is a little more involved than that for a misdemeanor.
Criminal Court Arraignment
Your criminal court arraignment date is established either by 1) the date on your ticket that the police gave to you if you were cited and released; 2) the date on an “appearance letter” the District Attorney’s Office sent to you in the mail; 3) the date the jail states on your bond paperwork if you bail out of jail; or 4) within 48 business hours of when you were arrested and taken into custody, if you are unable to bail out. Generally, the only issues the court determines at your arraignment is whether or not bail will be set or you will be released on your own recognizance; and whether you will enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty”. Once you enter your plea, your speedy trial right begins.
Anyone charged with a misdemeanor has the right to a speedy and public jury trial within 30 days of entering a “not guilty” plea at your arraignment (if you’re in jail), and 45 days from entering the plea if you are out on bail or your own recognizance. See Penal Code section 1382(a)(3).
Criminal Court Misdemeanor Cases
After your misdemeanor arraignment, you or your attorney will be given an opportunity to negotiate your case and agree to a disposition or plea agreement. These pretrial dates are used for discussion purposes or dates when defense motions can be filed decided by the judge (motions to suppress evidence, discovery motions, etc.). If you or your attorney are unable to come to an agreement with the District Attorney, your case will then proceed to trial.
Criminal Court Felony Cases
The difference between the misdemeanor and felony criminal processes is the preliminary hearing that you are entitled to for a felony charge. After your arraignment on a felony case, you are entitled to have a preliminary hearing within 10 court days of the date you enter your plea of “not guilty”. If you decide to waive the 10 day time frame, you still have the right to have your preliminary hearing within 60 calendar days of the arraignment date. You can always waive this time period and schedule addition pretrial dates to negotiate your case. If negotiations do not result in a disposition to your liking, the your preliminary hearing will be held. The preliminary hearing is a “probable cause” hearing during which the District Attorney calls witnesses (generally just the police officers who were involved) to testify about what the witnesses have told them about what happened. The judge will then decide if there is sufficient evidence to hold you to answer for the charges and proceed to jury trial. After the preliminary hearing in the branch court where your case is filed, you will then be sent to Department C5 in the Central Justice Center to start the jury trial phase of your felony case.
Flow Chart of the California Criminal Court Process
There are several resources online that are helpful in explaining the criminal court process in California. Feel free to click on this user friendly flowchart for more information.
Determining the Branch Criminal Court for Your Case
There are a total of 4 branch courts in Orange County that hear misdemeanor and felony matters: West Justice Center (Westminster), Harbor Justice Center (Newport Beach), Central Justice Center (Santa Ana) and North Justice Center (Fullerton). Following is a breakdown of cities each court covers:
West Justice Center covers incidents that occur in Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, Stanton, and Westminster. Harbor Justice Center covers incidents that occur in Aliso Viejo, Balboa Island, Capistrano Beach, Coto de Caza, Corona Del Mar, Dana Point, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, and Trabuco Canyon. Central Justice Center covers Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin and Villa Park, North Justice Center covers Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Fullerton, La Habra, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Placentia, Stanton and Yorba Linda.
For representation in criminal court in Orange County, contact Newport Beach Criminal Lawyer Karren Kenney at (855) 505-5588.