The purpose of this Guide is to provide an individual who has never been prosecuted for a felony with a general description of events.
Generally, you can be brought into the legal process in two ways in California. First, you are contacted at the scene of a crime or observed to be doing an act which might be considered illegal by law enforcement personnel. This usually results in an arrest. A report is then prepared, sent to the District Attorney who issues a complaint. You are then brought to court where you are arraigned (told what your rights and the possible consequences are and a not guilty plea is entered). Second, as a result of an investigation by some law enforcement agency, reports may be sent to the District Attorney who then asks the grand jury for an indictment. If a complaint is issued, you may be sent a letter to appear or an arrest warrant may be issued.
If you are indicted, the process begins below where arraignment on the information is discussed.
At your appearance on the complaint, after you enter a plea, you will be asked if you waive time or not. There are two time periods. Ten days and sixty days. The DA can only go beyond the ten days if there is a good reason called "good cause" and he can never exceed 60 days with out your consent. Whether or not you waive those time periods is a tactical decision to be discussed with your attorney.
Entry of the plea completes the arraignment. There may or may not be another appearance to see if the case can be resolved prior to the preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution will call witnesses tothe stand and may offer the magistrate physical evidence. The purpose of this hearing is to determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial. Enough evdence exists if the magistrate believes that a reasonable person would believe the crimes were committed and that you committed them.
If you are "held to answer" , the magistrate will order a return to court for arraignment on the Information. At this new arraignment, you will again be informed of your rights, asked to enter a plea and whether or not you waive time for trial. The court will probably set a date for trial at this time.
You can think of a trial as a long hearing where several are asked questions under oath by the prosecutor and your attorney and where physical evidence may be presented. A trial may be either by a court (a judge listens to the evidence and decides the issue of guilt or innocence) or to a jury ( a group of twelve people chosen from the community).
At the end of the evidence portion of the trial, the jury reviews the testimony and physical evidence and decides whether or not you are guitly or innocent. If innocent, you leave the court room. If the verdict is guilty, you will return at a future date for sentencing and/or a motion for a new trial.
If the new trial motion is denied, the court will impose a sentence. The nature of the sentence, probation or prison, will depend on your prior record, if any, the charges of which you were convicted and the conduct associated with those charges.
Appeal is the next proceeding and I leave that for another to explain.