In California, the term "charged" with a crime refers to the government formally filing papers with the court accusing a person with breaking the law.
People often use the phrase "press charges" when referring to a victim asking the government to charge another person. However, victims don't control whether or not someone gets charged. The prosecutor may factor in what the victim wants but doesn't have to. Nobody in California can charge someone with a crime other than the government. Usually, this means the district attorney.
The arraignment is the defendant’s first appearance in court. At arraignment:
• The judge tells the defendant what the charges are.
• The defendant is advised or his or her Constitutional rights, including the right to be represented by an attorney, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to a speedy trial.
• The judge tells the defendant that he will have the public defender represent the defendant if the defendant does not have the money to hire a lawyer.
• The defendant enters an initial plea to the charges, i.e. not guilty, no contest, or guilty.
• The judge sets the bail or sets a formal bail hearing.
The prosecution will share the information that they are going to use to prove the charges against the defendant. This is called “discovery.” This may include the police reports, witness statements, and other evidence the police and prosecutors have gathered.
The prosecutors and the defense may also discuss how the case can be resolved without a trial. In a felony case, if the two sides cannot agree on a resolution, a preliminary hearing will be scheduled.
A preliminary hearing is a proceeding held before trial in felony cases. The purpose is for the court to determine if there is enough evidence to hold the defendant to go to trial. Essentially, the prosecutor has to show evidence that would lead give a reasonable person a strong suspicion that the defendant is guilty of the charged crimes. The standard is much lower at a preliminary hearing than at trial.
The standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” does not apply at a preliminary hearing. Although the burden is not high, the preliminary hearing is a critical stage of the proceedings.
Everyone accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent until a jury convicts them. In misdemeanor and felony cases, defendants have a right to have a jury of their peers decide the case. The prosecutor has to convince a jury that the defendant is guilty of the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
The jury gets to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not. The proceeding where the prosecutor presents evidence and the jury decides whether the defendant is guilty is called trial.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one has been arrested or accused of a crime, contact us for a free case evaluation.
Give us a call (916) 444-6595, or fill out the contact form below. Our Sacramento criminal defense lawyers are here to fight for you and your family every step of the way.