How California’s Criminal Justice System Works

Anyone accused of a crime can challenge the allegations against them. To do so, they must proceed through the justice system. Various components comprise the system, which is concerned with protecting public safety and deterring and punishing crimes. Throughout the process, the accused (and their defense attorney) and the prosecutor gather evidence and present arguments to pursue a specific outcome. The defendant seeks to minimize or avoid penalties. In contrast, the prosecutor works to obtain a guilty verdict.

The justice system can be confusing, but you don’t have to go through it alone. You can have an attorney help you at every stage. If you’re looking for legal representation in Los Angeles, schedule a consultation with Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP by contacting us at (800) 462-7160 today.

The Main Components of the Justice System

The justice system is designed to provide public safety, deter crime, and punish offenders. The process begins with an arrest, which is triggered by a report to the police. The accused is then taken into custody and brought before a judge for an arraignment. At this point, the defendant enters a guilty or not guilty plea.

If the defendant pleads not guilty, a pre-trial conference is scheduled. A trial follows, during which both the prosecution and defense present their cases. If the defendant is convicted, they might be subject to penalties. A criminal defense lawyer can help ensure that the accused's rights are protected throughout the process.

The Process of Being Arrested and Charged with a Crime

The criminal justice process starts with the reporting of a crime by a victim or witness. Law enforcement officials will investigate the report, and if they believe probable cause exists, they will make an arrest or issue a notice to appear in court.

The next step is booking, during which the accused is fingerprinted and photographed, and law enforcement personnel enters their information into the agency's database. The police will also prepare a report of the arrest, which contains information about the alleged crime and evidence obtained. An officer will send the report to the prosecutor.

The prosecutor reviews the report to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to pursue the case. If formal charges are filed, the matter will move forward.

The Stages of the Court System

After the prosecutor submits their complaint to the court, the defendant will go through various hearings and legal proceedings.

The first stage in the court process is the arraignment, where the defendant is notified of the charges against them and their constitutional rights. The defendant may also be asked to enter a plea, such as guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

At the arraignment, the judge may decide to release the defendant on their own recognizance or set bail. If bail is set, the defendant must pay a certain amount to get out of pre-trial detention.

In felony cases, the defendant may be scheduled for a preliminary hearing. The judge will determine whether enough evidence exists to believe that the defendant committed the offense and whether the case should go to trial. The defendant may enter their plea at this time.

The discovery phase follows a not guilty plea in a misdemeanor or felony case. This is where information is exchanged between the prosecution and defense. It allows both parties to review the other side's evidence and prevents surprises at trial.

The trial is the next stage. The prosecution and defense will present arguments before a judge or jury. The defendant will be convicted if the prosecutor is successful in convincing the judge or jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Potential Penalties Upon a Conviction

A guilty plea or guilty verdict in a criminal case may lead to the defendant being sentenced. The penalties imposed upon a conviction depend on the level of crime and the facts of the case, among other factors. For example, a misdemeanor offense generally carries a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines, while a felony offense can result in a sentence of one year or more in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines.

In addition to imprisonment and/or fines, other penalties appropriate for the particular crime may be imposed, such as the following:

  • Probation,
  • Community service,
  • Restitution,
  • Driver's license suspension, and/or
  • Sex offender registration.

The Role of a Criminal Defense Lawyer

A criminal defense attorney is a vital part of the justice system. They can provide legal representation for defendants at every stage of their case, from investigation to sentencing. They protect their clients' rights and build legal strategies to fight charges. Defense lawyers work to pursue favorable outcomes for their clients, whether that means an acquittal, a dismissal of the charges, or a reduced sentence.

Get Started on Your Defense

If you have been accused of a crime, arrested, or charged and need legal assistance in Los Angeles, please contact Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys can help you understand the criminal justice system and safeguard your best interests.

Please do not hesitate to give us a call at (800) 462-7160 today.