California Criminal Law Overview
Criminal Law lawyers can help individuals who are accused of a crime and face the possibility of going to jail. A Criminal Law lawyer can help a person accused of a crime during every stage of the Criminal Law process. A good Criminal Law lawyer will be committed to the best interests of their client and can negotiate with the prosecutors to arrange for reduced charges and lesser sentencing. In addition, Criminal Law lawyers are familiar with rules, procedures, and local court customs that the average person is not. Criminal Law lawyers also gather information regarding the case, question witnesses, and hire investigators who will work for their client's best interests.
"WHAT ARE THE STAGES OF THE CRIMINAL PROCESS?"
The stages of a Criminal Law case are listed below and explained more thoroughly later in the text.
- Booking and Bail
- Plea Bargain
- Preliminary Hearing
- Pre-Trial Motions
"I'VE BEEN ARRESTED, WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW?"
An arrest occurs when a police officers exercises their power to take a person into custody. This occurs when a person is no longer free to leave or move about; they do not need to be physically restrained. Once a police officer has placed a person under arrest, the Criminal Law process has begun.
After a person has been arrested and taken into custody, they will go through the booking process. This is the process involves recording the person's personal information, fingerprinting, background checks, confiscation of property, and then the placement in a jail cell. A determination will then be made about their eligibility to be released from jail, also known as bail. Bail is the amount of money that a defendant must pay in order to be released from jail. The bail money will be refunded when the defendant shows up for their court appearances. Judges are responsible for setting bail. The U.S. Constitution guarantees that an assigned bail amount will not be excessive. During this process, a Criminal Law lawyer can ensure your constitutional rights are protected.
"WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS WHEN I'M ARRESTED?"
When you are arrested you have a number of rights known as "Miranda" rights. Because of these rights, when you are arrested, a police officer must read you four things related to your Fifth Amendment rights. These four things are:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
If a police officer questions someone who has been arrested without first telling them their "Miranda" rights, any statement or confession cannot be used against the suspect during the Criminal Law case.
"WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I HAVE POSTED BAIL?"
After the bail process, the next step in the Criminal Law case process is the arraignment. This is the first courtroom step in the process. The person suspected of the crime appears in court, before a judge who takes the following actions:
- Reads the Criminal Law charges filed against the defendant.
- Asks whether or not the defendant needs a court appointed lawyer.
- Asks how the defendant pleads.
- Decides if bail should be altered or the defendant should be released on their own recognizance.
- Announces future court proceedings.
"WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS IN THE COURTROOM?"
During the courtroom proceedings, the defendant has the following rights as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
- The right to counsel, even if you cannot afford a lawyer.
- The right against self-incrimination.
- The right to a speedy trial by jury.
- The right not to face the same Criminal Law charges more than once (double jeopardy).
"HOW CAN A CRIMINAL LAWYER ASSIST ME DURING MY CRIMINAL CASE?"
A Criminal Law defense lawyer is extremely important during your Criminal Law case. While the specific duties of your lawyer will vary depending on what charges you are facing, your Criminal Law lawyer will always have certain responsibilities as your lawyer. Your Criminal Law defense lawyer will:
- Advise you of your rights and explain what to expect at each stage of the Criminal Law process.
- Ensure your constitutional rights are not violated.
- Negotiate a plea bargain with the government.
- Investigate facts and evidence related or your case.
- Cross-examine government witnesses.
- Object to improper questions and evidence.
- Present any and all legal defenses relevant to your Criminal Law case.
Even though the right to a lawyer is usually associated with courtroom proceedings, you have the right to a lawyer during almost every phase of the Criminal Law process, starting with your arrest, through the first appeal after conviction.
"WHY WOULD I WANT TO ACCEPT A PLEA BARGAIN?"
Going to trial can take weeks or even months and the results are unpredictable. A plea bargain can settle your case quickly and will allow you and your lawyer to control the outcome of the Criminal Law case. A plea bargain often means that the defendant will receive a lighter sentence for a less-severe charge than might have resulted from taking the case to trial and losing. There are other benefits from accepting a plea bargain including saving money on lawyer fees, getting out of jail if you cannot afford bail, resolving the case quickly, and having a less-severe offense on your record that is less socially stigmatizing.
"SHOULD I REPRESENT MYSELF DURING MY CRIMINAL CASE?"
As a general rule, the less severe the crime, the more sensible it is to represent yourself. This is because the more serious the crime the more severe the punishment is likely to be. It would be unwise to represent yourself when there is the possibility of going to jail or paying large fines as the result of your Criminal Law trial.