Los Angeles County’s court system is one of the largest unified trial systems in the world. It comprises around 40 courthouses that include nearly 600 courtrooms and 450 judges. The system handles 2.7 million cases and 5,500 jury trials each year.
Criminal Justice System versus Civil Arena
When you hear someone say, "There are too many lawyers!" the complaint typically refers to the civil arena, which largely focuses on resolving disputes over money. Examples of civil-arena cases include lawsuits over wills, trusts, and contracts. In addition, the civil arena comprises family law, which is commonly called divorce court. The reality is the civil arena has an overabundance of attorneys. Meanwhile, the criminal justice system focuses on one's freedom stemming from charges related to felonies; DUIs; domestic violence; three-strikes cases; sex, theft, drug, and juvenile crimes; and more. Despite the fact that LA's criminal system covers one of the country's biggest cities, when it comes to great criminal defense attorneys, Los Angeles County's criminal justice community is small, and the group of the best lawyers is even smaller--in general, veteran criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges all know each other. Top attorneys have worked with all the key players who will influence your case's outcome. They understand an individual judge's judicial temperament. This refers to a judge's overall approach to the law, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and defendants. It also describes a judge's compassion, decisiveness, open-mindedness, courtesy, patience, freedom from bias, and commitment to equal justice for all under the law. LA's best attorneys are familiar with the prosecutors in each court in addition to bailiffs. Furthermore, they know how to communicate effectively with court staff, and they realize the importance of knowing all the players in the criminal court system. In my experience, the criminal court system upholds a higher degree of ethics and fairness as compared to the civil arena. For instance, you see much more bureaucracy and red tape in the civil court system. And attorneys in the civil arena have an inherent conflict of interest when they bill per hour--the longer their clients duke out a case, the more their attorneys can bill for time. Meanwhile, criminal defense attorneys frequently bill by flat fee. Thus criminal defense attorneys are rewarded for efficiently resolving the case, whether that means trying it before a jury or negotiating aggressively on a defendant's behalf. As far as the courthouses themselves are concerned, criminal courts and civil courts are separate in Los Angeles. For instance, in Van Nuys, you have Van Nuys East, which handles civil cases, and you have Van Nuys West, which is the criminal courthouse. Federal cases are an exception. In the federal system, federal judges handle both criminal and civil matters. Overall, you'll find more criminal courthouses than civil ones. And criminal trials typically take precedence between the two.
Federal versus State Crimes
Broadly speaking, the difference between federal and state crimes is that federal defendants and their crimes are more sophisticated than their state counterparts. As a result, the charges and punishments associated with federal crimes are typically more severe. In general, crimes include the following three types: 1. Felonies--high-grade crimes involving serious harm. 2. Misdemeanors--low-grade crimes that typically don't involve serious harm. 3. Infractions--public offenses, such as traffic violations and other low-grade issues. You'll find overlap between felonies and misdemeanors. For example, a DUI is often a misdemeanor. But if someone is injured, it may be elevated to a felony. Similarly, domestic violence is typically a misdemeanor, unless serious injury is involved or there are prior convictions for the offender, in which case it will be charged as a felony.
The Cast of Characters
The following are the men and women who will influence, organize, and make decisions related to your case. Law enforcement is responsible for investigating and arresting those involved in criminal behavior. Law enforcement includes sheriffs, the Los Angeles Police Department, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security. Prosecutors are attorneys who work on behalf of citizens. Prosecutors control the charges filed against a criminal defendant. They prosecute cases for the county and state. Prosecutors include the following: o District attorneys (DAs) work for the people of the state of California and typically prosecute felonies. o City attorneys work for the city of Los Angeles and typically prosecute misdemeanors. Judges preside over criminal cases, felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. They control the sentence meted out to the criminal defendant. Judges exert the most power when it comes to sentencing, and prosecutors exert the most power when it comes to charges. Their roles are like the executive and legislative branches of government: The president is more effective with foreign affairs, compared to Congress, which is more effective with domestic ones. Bailiffs are law enforcement officers who are in the courtroom. They preserve order, and they deal with the defendants who are in custody. Court reporters record everything said in courts while the judge is on the record. Court reporters also provide records of court proceedings. Court clerks run the paperwork, the calendar, and the court procedurally and deal with motions. Court clerks also facilitate communication between judges and lawyers. Think of them as the middle people the lawyers directly deal with. Juror is someone who listens to courtroom jury trials. Jurors are members of the community enlisted as volunteers in order to hear both criminal and civil cases. Under the "One-Day or One-Trial Jury Service," Californians are required to serve in jury trials once every twelve months. According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, those called to serve can fulfill their requirement through one of four ways: 1. Be assigned to on-call or standby jury service. 2. Appear in person for jury service. 3. Appear in person for jury service or be assigned to a courtroom for jury selection but not chosen for a trial. 4. Appear in person for jury service, be assigned to a courtroom for jury selection, and be chosen for a trial. Criminal Defense Attorneys defend those who are charged with crimes and protect their constitutional rights, reputation, and freedom.
Courthouse--A building typically located in the heart of a city's downtown area, the courthouse has jurisdiction over all the crimes committed in a designated boundary. The location where a crime is committed determines which courthouse has jurisdiction over that crime. In Los Angeles County, each of the estimated forty courthouses has an area of land within its jurisdiction. This number has fluctuated due to budget constraints and court closures. In general, highly sophisticated, political, or heinous federal crimes committed in LA County are adjudicated in the following two downtown Los Angeles federal courthouses: o The Roybal Federal Building located at 255 East Temple Street, Los Angeles 90012 o United States Courthouse located at 312 North Spring Street, Los Angeles 90012
Knowing the Basics Will Set You Up for Success
When you're fighting for your freedom, sometimes "the best defense is a strong offense." While other times, negotiation is the only reasonable choice. Deciding upon an option is difficult, particularly when you're scared and confused. Here is where understanding the basics of the system--one whose outcomes may affect the rest of your life, as well as the lives of those you care about--will bring clarity to your perspective. By combining your efforts with the expertise of a seasoned and savvy defense attorney, you're ensuring that you'll experience the best possible result.
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