Continuing our blog series on criminal cases in California, we will consider pretrial proceedings. This is the stage of a criminal case that occurs after the arrest and arraignment and before a trial. The specific proceedings that a defendant will face may vary depending on whether he or she has been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony offense:
Misdemeanor Pretrial Proceedings
When a defendant has been charged with a misdemeanor, such as a first-time DUI or petty theft, and enters a plea of "not guilty," the next stage will be to go to trial. Prior to the trial, however, there are several steps that will take place:
- During a process called discovery, the defense and prosecution will exchange information. While the defendant may be limited on what information he or she may see during discovery proceedings, his or her lawyer can usually have access to everything. This is to protect the identity of witnesses, as lawyers are bound by law to protect such witnesses while still defending their clients.
- The defense or prosecution may file pretrial motions, such as motions to suppress evidence, dismiss the case or cancel the complaint.
- The defendant will also have the opportunity to change his or her plea, if needed.
- The judge, defense and prosecution can discuss how to handle the case out of court to prevent it from going to trial, such as through a plea agreement.
If no plea agreement is reached and the defendant has not changed his or her plea to guilty or no contest, the case will proceed to trial.
Felony Pre-Trial Proceedings
If a defendant has been charged with a felony like grand theft, drug trafficking or a third DUI, and the case does not resolve after the arraignment hearing, the following may occur:
- A judge will hold a preliminary hearing, at which point he or she will determine whether there is sufficient evidence against the defendant to have him or her go to trial for the alleged crime.
- If the judge determines there is sufficient evidence to move forward with a trial, the prosecuting attorney will file a document called "the Information," and the defendant will be arraigned a second time. The defendant will enter a plea at this point.
- If a defendant enters a plea of not guilty, the discovery process will take place, wherein the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney will exchange information.
- Both the prosecution and defense will have the opportunity to file pretrial motions.
- The defendant can change his or her plea to guilty or no contest.
- The defense, prosecution and judge may discuss whether they case can be settled out of court through a plea bargain.
If the defendant does not enter a plea of no contest or guilty, or if the case is not settled prior to the trial, it will then go to trial.
The Importance of Pretrial Counsel
The decisions you make and steps you take prior to a trial can directly impact its outcome. Involving a highly competent criminal defense attorney will be your best chance of avoiding a conviction and even possibly avoiding a trial in the first place by having your charges reduced or dismissed altogether. Because pretrial proceedings include important processes like discovery and the filing of pretrial motions that may directly influence what evidence is brought against you in court, you need an attorney who is thorough and experienced – and who has the resources to properly handle your case.
At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we recognize the importance of independently investigating and analyzing all physical evidence, police reports, witness testimony and other information pertinent to our clients' cases so we can create the best possible strategy during pretrial proceedings.
Learn more about our Southern California legal team by calling our Los Angeles office at (800) 462-7160.