The Felony Case Process
There are eight basic steps to the felony process.
This is the very first court appearance you will have and it is the process by which a person is brought before a court to hear and answer criminal charges against him or her. Your personal presence is required. If you are out of custody be on time no matter what.
Six things occur at arraignment:
- Defendant is advised of his or her constitutional rights.
- Counsel is appointed.
- The charges are read to defendant, and a copy of the complaint is provided.
- Defendant is invited to enter a plea to the charges.
- Bail is determined, which may be different than the presumptive bail amount, or defendant may be released on his or her own recognizance.
- A date for the defendant's next court appearance is set. As discussed more in depth below, that next date may be a preliminary hearing if at least one of the charges is a felony, or a pretrial hearing if the charge if charges are misdemeanors only.
Bail Review / O.R. (Release on "Own Recognizance"
The second step is the bail review. The accused is entitled to bail review within three days of the arraignment. Bail is money that an arrested person gives to a court to ensure that he will appear in court when ordered to do so. The Eighth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution requires that bail not be excessive.
Released "on their own recognizance," or "O.R.". If the accused has strong ties to a community, has little or no past criminal record, a job, and is not a danger to the community or a flight risk a judge may be convinced to grant an O.R. release. Simply put, the accused released O.R. must simply sign a promise to show up in court and doesn't have to post bail. If the judge denies O.R. release, then a lower bail amount will be requested by your attorney.
First Readiness / Prelim Setting / Disposition Conference
The third step is the first readiness-conference or in some courts called a settlement conference or a prelim setting. It is set before the preliminary hearing and is a good opportunity to try and resolve the case through a plea bargain. These conferences also provide an opportunity for your lawyer to obtain from law enforcement and the prosecutor necessary information called discovery for your defense.
Preliminary Examination - The Preliminary Hearing / Pretrial Hearing
The fourth step is the preliminary hearing. If the defendant is charged with a felony, he or she is entitled to a preliminary hearing before a judicial officer within 10 court days of arraignment. (Persons charged with only misdemeanors are not entitled to a preliminary hearing.) The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to weed out weak or unmeritorious charges. Usually it is in your best interest to get this out as far as possible to allow your attorney time to attempt to settle and get prepared for the preliminary hearing.
At the preliminary hearing (commonly known as "prelim"), which is relatively informal and held before a magistrate (a judge, or a commissioner sitting as a judge pro-tem) without a jury, the prosecutor must show that there is a strong suspicion that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is probably guilty. This evidentiary standard is relatively easy to meet, and is far less that the "beyond a reasonable doubt" evidentiary standard used at trial.
Arraignment in Trial Court
The fifth step is the second arraignment or the arraignment on information. If the felony charges are not dropped at the preliminary hearing, you will be arraigned in superior court where your trial later will be held. This is the arraignment after you have been bound for trial at the preliminary hearing and the next settlement conference date is set at this time along with a trial date. This is also an opportunity for your attorney to file motions and demand further discovery.
When the defendant is held to answer to a felony charge, the case is transferred to the trial division, where the prosecutor files a new document called an information, which contains the offenses the defendant is accused of committing. The defendant must be arraigned on the information within 15 days of being held to answer. At the arraignment on the information, all of the procedures that occurred at the initial trial arraignment occur again.
Pretrial Readiness Conference
The sixth step is the second readiness conference this is set up to see if your case can settle. If you cannot settle your case at this readiness conference, you will probably go to trial. Usually the readiness conference is set out thirty to forty-five days past the second arraignment. Trial usually follows with in a few weeks.
At the pretrial hearing (which occurs in both felony and misdemeanor cases), the parties may again discuss settlement of the case, discuss possible discovery issues, and make other motions, such as a 995, 1538.5.
In every criminal case the prosecutor to disclose to the defense who the witnesses will be and what documentary and other physical evidence will be introduced at trial. If the case is not resolved at the pretrial hearing, the court may set additional pretrial hearings. Eventually, a final pretrial hearing is set, called a readiness conference.
At the readiness conference, the parties will make an attempt to resolve the case without a trial.
The seventh step is the pretrial motion hearings. This allows your lawyer the opportunity to challenge evidence that the prosecutor may try to introduce at trial.
The eighth and final step is the jury trial. If you answer ready on this date you will be assigned out to trial court, and your trial will begin within a day or so. There must be a unanimous verdict for guilt.
There will usually be 12 jurors and some alternates. In some cases a jury trial is waived and the defendant is tried before only a judge. This is called a court trial. Defendants must be brought to trial within a specified time period.
There are five basic parts to a jury trial:
- Jury voir dire (questioning) and selection
- Opening statements
- Presentation of evidence (divided into People's case, defense case, and People's rebuttal)
- Closing arguments