Criminal Cases in California: Arrest & Charges

Unless you are a licensed attorney with real-world experience, you probably do not know what to expect when it comes to criminal proceedings. Understanding the basic steps involved in an arrest and the filing of charges can make all the difference if you find yourself on the "wrong side of the law," so to speak. The better prepared you are, the better positioned you will be to fight your charges.

In our commitment to providing valuable insight and legal counsel to arrestees, suspects and defendants in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California, we will be presenting a blog series related to criminal proceedings in California. This is the first installment, related to arrests and initial charges. In addition to reviewing the information found here, please feel free to call our offices at any time to discuss a specific case with one of our legal professionals. We are here to help.

What happens when I am arrested?

There are three potential outcomes to an arrest. If you are arrested, you will be taken by law enforcement to jail. At this point, one of three things may occur:

  • You may be released, if the prosecutor (district attorney or city attorney) decides not to file charges.
  • You may have to post bail or may be released on a promise to return to court at a later date for your arraignment. The amount of bail may be predetermined based on your charges, bail may be determined based on your specific case, or you may be released on your own recognizance (without bail) if you are not considered a flight risk.
  • You may remain in jail, if bail is denied. This may occur in cases involving very serious crimes or where the court believes that the defendant will attempt to flee.

If you are arrested, it is important to remember that you have the right to an attorney. Exercising this basic constitutional right is absolutely crucial if you want to ensure the full protection of your legal rights. You also have the right to remain silent and to have your attorney present during any questioning, which can help you avoid unintentional self-incrimination or other issues that could negatively impact your case.

How does a criminal case start?

A criminal case will typically start with an arrest. The police will make the arrest and will write a corresponding report, which will include such information as the events leading up to the arrest, the names of any witnesses and other relevant data. A defendant usually does not get a copy of this report, to protect the identity of witnesses. The defendant's lawyer, however, will be entitled to a copy. This is one of the many reasons it is so important to work with a criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with a crime.

Upon receiving the police report, the prosecuting attorney will determine whether to file charges. The prosecutor will look at the information at hand to decide what type of charges to file, including the number of counts (occurrences) and whether the charge will be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor has a good amount of leeway when it comes to this step. If the prosecutor decides to press charges, this usually must be done within 48 hours of the defendant's arrest. Exceptions may apply, however, if an arrest was made over a weekend or on a court holiday.

Once a defendant is formally charged by the prosecutor, the next step will be to set an arraignment date. Click here to learn more about arraignment proceedings.

Interested in learning more? Call a Los Angeles criminal attorney at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP for a confidential consultation and review of your case.