In California, misdemeanors are offenses punishable by no more than 1 year in jail. Although they are less serious than felonies, you must still go through the justice system to resolve your case. The legal process consists of various steps, including booking, filing charges, attending an arraignment and other hearings, going to trial, and imposing a sentence. The course your case takes will depend on the actions you and law enforcement officials take at each stage.
Because of the nuances involved in the legal system, it's not recommended for anyone to handle their case alone. If you were charged with a misdemeanor, have a criminal defense lawyer guide you through the process. They can give crucial insight and assist in pursuing a favorable result for you.
At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our team is prepared to stand up for those facing charges in Los Angeles. Schedule a consultation by calling us at (800) 462-7160 or submitting an online contact form today.
The Criminal Process
Law enforcement officials might allege that you were involved in a criminal offense. However, the accusation does not mean you are guilty and should be punished. In the eyes of the law, you are presumed innocent and have the right to challenge the charges against you.
After you have been arrested for a misdemeanor, several things will happen to provide you the opportunity to contest the allegations and ensure that your right to due process is upheld.
The following gives a brief overview of what you can expect after being taken into custody.
The law enforcement official who arrested you will transport you to the local jail. You will be booked, which means an officer will take your information, fingerprints, and photograph and enter all these details into the agency's system.
The arresting officer will also complete a report summarizing the incident leading to your arrest. The officer sends the report to the District Attorney's office, where an attorney will review it to decide whether to file charges. If the prosecutor finds that sufficient evidence exists to believe that a misdemeanor was committed and you were the one who committed it, they will move forward with the case. Otherwise, they will not file charges.
To facilitate a speedy trial, the prosecutor should decide whether to pursue the matter within 48 hours of your arrest.
The arraignment is your first appearance in court. A judge will explain your charges and inform you of your rights. They may also allow you to enter a plea.
You can plead:
- Guilty, which means you admit to committing the crime;
- Not guilty, which means you are refuting the allegations; or
- No contest, which means you are not admitting guilt but accept the criminal consequences.
During the arraignment, the judge may release you from custody on your own recognizance. That means you do not have to pay any money to get out of jail while your case is pending. You sign a document stating that you promise to return for all future court hearings.
The judge can also choose to set bail in your case, which would require you to pay for pre-trial release.
If you plead not guilty to the alleged offense, your case will be set for additional proceedings. Several things may happen before your next hearing.
The prosecutor and your defense attorney will exchange information about the offense. This part of the process is called discovery. It allows both sides to see what evidence the other side has, enabling them to prepare their cases and avoid any surprises in court.
After your attorney has the prosecutor's evidence, they can advise you on how to move forward. They may also file pre-trial motions, such as a motion to dismiss the case or suppress evidence.
Your attorney and the prosecutor may also enter negotiations to attempt to resolve your case outside of the courtroom. They may develop a deal where you agree to plead guilty to certain charges in exchange for lesser sentencing or other relief. Your lawyer should discuss the pros and cons of accepting the plea deal to help you decide what path to take.
If you are not offered or do not accept a plea deal, your case will go to trial. The trial should occur within 30 days of your arraignment if you're still in custody and within 45 days if the judge granted pre-trial release.
Trial consists of several stages:
- Jury selection
- Opening statements
- Presentation of evidence
- Closing arguments
A judge or jury will hear each side's evidence to decide whether the prosecutor has met their burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If they are not convinced, they may return a not guilty verdict. You will be acquitted of the charge, face no criminal penalties, and be released. Additionally, you cannot be tried for the same incident again.
If the judge or jury is convinced that the prosecutor met their burden, they may return a guilty verdict. In this case, you will be sentenced.
At the sentencing stage of your criminal case, the judge will determine what penalties to impose. They may consider aggravating and mitigating factors when deciding.
Can You Go to Jail for a Misdemeanor?
If you're found guilty, you can be sentenced to jail for up to 1 year. You may also face a fine of up to $1,000.
Depending on your situation, the judge could order you to probation instead of incarceration.
Get Started Building Your Defense
A misdemeanor is less severe than a felony, but the charge should still be taken seriously. Reach out to a lawyer who can assist in developing your legal strategy.
To discuss your case with one of our Los Angeles attorneys, please contact Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP at (800) 462-7160.