california criminal defense process

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The California Criminal Defense Process

The criminal defense process consists of several steps.

Criminal cases in California typically follow the criminal case procedure outlined below. Note that not every criminal case will follow all of these steps. Click on an item to learn more about that specific step.


  • The Arrest

    If you are arrested, you will be taken to the police station for questioning or for further processing. An arrest does not automatically mean that you will be held in jail or that a criminal case will be filed.

    • The arresting officer writes a report about the incident. This report describes the incident in detail, including the events that led to your arrest. This report also includes the accounts of eyewitnesses as well as the information about said eyewitnesses.
    • The prosecutor (typically the district or the city attorney) decides whether or not the incident merits time in court.
    • If criminal charges will be filed, the prosecutor chooses to file either a misdemeanor or a felony case. It is also the prosecutor's prerogative to choose which particular criminal charges to bring against you - these could be exactly the same as those indicated in the police report, or it could be different. The prosecutor may also decide to levy more or fewer criminal charges against you than is indicated in the police report.

    So depending on the circumstances of your arrest, the thoroughness of the police report, and the prosecutor in charge of your case, your arrest could lead to one of the following outcomes:

    • The prosecutor decides not to press charges. In this case, you will be released and no criminal charges will be filed against you.
    • The prosecutor decides to press charges, but you are released on the condition that you will appear in court for your arraignment. You may need to guarantee your "promise" by posting bond or bail.
    • The prosecutor decides to press charges, but you are held in prison until your arraignment.

    An arrest may or may not lead to criminal charges. It is in this stage of the criminal defense process, therefore, that it is crucial to have proper legal representation.

    If you have been arrested, exercise your right to stay silent and call a criminal defense lawyer. First of all, a lawyer is privy to certain information you don't - e.g. the arrest report. Without information from the arrest report, you could be misled or deceived into revealing information that could harm your defense. Generally, your criminal defense lawyer will be able to help you avoid pitfalls during questioning, thoroughly explain your legal options, help you make bond arrangements, and discuss with you what will happen next. The best thing about having an experienced criminal defense lawyer at this point is that he may be even be able to convince the prosecutor that it is not worth the city's time and resources to press charges.

    So, if you have been arrested, call The Law Offices of Payman Zargari at (310) 601-7070 for exceptional criminal defense you can rely on.

  • Criminal Charges Are Filed

    If you are being held in prison prior to charges being filed, the prosecutor must file criminal charges in court within 48 hours of your arrest. Of course, there are exceptions to this general rule. For instance, days when the court is closed (say, court holidays or weekends) do not count against the prosecutor's 48-hour deadline. Moreover, the 48-hour deadline is also determined in part by the time of your arrest.

    Your criminal defense lawyer should be able to tell you when the 48-hour deadline for filing of charges will end in your particular case.

  • The Arraignment

    This is going to be your first appearance in court as a criminal case defendant. The arraignment proceedings may be divided into three parts: the reading of the charges, your response, and the custody decision.

    • The Judge Reads You the Charges and Your Rights
    • During you arraignment, the judge will formally read to you the criminal charges that have been filed against you. The judge will also tell you about your constitutional rights and inform you about the availability of free, court-appointed legal representation if you don't have money to pay for a defense lawyer.

    • You (the Defendant) Respond to Charges or Enter a Plea
    • After the judge has formally read you the charges and your rights, you will be asked to respond to the criminal charges that have been levied against you. Typically, your plea would be one of the following:

      • Not Guilty
      • Entering a plea of Not Guilty means a claim that you did not commit the crime or crimes with which you are being charged. A plea of not guilty is also a tool that lawyers commonly use to get their clients better terms during plea bargaining or even to force the case into trial, when the prosecutor will have to assume the burden of proof.

      • Guilty
      • Entering a plea of Guilty means an admission that you have indeed committed the crime or crimes with which you're being charged. If you enter a Guilty plea, the judge will formally find you guilty of the charge/charges filed against you and enters a conviction in your record.

      • No Contest or "Nolo Contendere"
      • This is similar to an admission of guilt - that is, this plea means you do not contest the criminal charge/charges that have been filed against you. This plea also leads to a conviction, but such conviction cannot be used against you in a civil lawsuit.

    • The Judge Decides on the Matter of Your Custody
    • If you are in police custody at the time of your arraignment, the judge will now decide whether to release you or keep you in jail. The following are the typical outcomes of a custody decision:

      • Judge Releases You on Your Own Recognizance
      • If the judge decides to release you on your "own recognizance", you will be released from jail on the condition that you promise to return to court at a later, specified date. No bail is necessary in this case.

      • Judge Sets Bail
      • In this case, the judge sets a specific amount (or indicates a certain property of yours) as bail. You will then be held in custody until such time as you can post the bail set by the judge.

        Bail acts as a guarantee on a defendant's part that he does not intend to flee and that he intends to appear in court when required to do so. Setting the amount or value of any a defendant's bail is the judge's prerogative; it is usually set depending on the graveness of the defendant's crime/s, the likelihood that the defendant will flee the state or the country to evade conviction/prison, as well as the risk that releasing the defendant poses to the community and the public in general.

      • Judge Sets No Bail and Remands Defendant into Custody
      • In this case, the judge decides against bail. You will be returned to jail and held there for the duration of the criminal defense process.

    You need a competent criminal defense lawyer on your side during Arraignment. Your lawyer will plan your strategy (for plea bargaining), and help you decide on the plea to enter. So call The Law Offices of Payman Zargari at (310) 601-7070 for exceptional criminal defense you can rely on.

  • Pre-trial - Misdemeanors

    Again, not all cases will lead to a jury trial. Majority of criminal cases are settled out of court. What will happen after the arraignment depends in part on the seriousness of the criminal charges you're facing and in part on the expertise of your criminal defense attorney.

    If you entered a Not Guilty Plea during arraignment on a misdemeanor criminal charge, this is the general procedure that will be followed:

    • The Discovery phase
    • During pretrial, the prosecutor and your defense lawyer show each other what they know through an exchange of information.

    • Pretrial Motions
    • After the arraignment and before the trial, your lawyer can file pretrial motions asking the court to dismiss the case and to exclude certain evidence (say, something the prosecution has on you that could prejudice the jury against you in trial), among others.

    • Change of Plea
    • Before the case goes to trial, you can change your plea from Not Guilty to Guilty or No Contest.

    • Out of Court Settlement
    • The judge will usually encourage the prosecution and the defense to get together so the case may be settled out of court..

    You need a competent criminal defense lawyer on your side through the pretrial phase of the criminal defense process. Your lawyer will plan your strategy (for plea bargaining), file motions on your behalf, and help you settle the matter out of court if possible or if doing so is in your best interest. So call The Law Offices of Payman Zargari at (310) 601-7070 for exceptional criminal defense you can rely on.

  • Pre-trial - Felonies

    Again, not all cases will lead to a jury trial. Majority of criminal cases are settled out of court. What will happen after the arraignment depends in part on the seriousness of the criminal charges you're facing and in part on the expertise of your criminal defense attorney.

    If you entered a Not Guilty Plea during arraignment on a felony charge, this is the general procedure that will be followed:

    • The Preliminary Hearing
    • After your Arraignment, there will be a preliminary hearing in which the judge will judge the merits of the case for trial. Specifically, during this prelimnary hearing, the judge will decide whether or not the prosecution has a solid enough case to merit a trial.

    • The Information
    • If the judge decides during the preliminary hearing that the case filed against you has merit, the prosecutor will file The Information in court, and this will be the basis for another Arraignment. The Information must be filed within 15 days of the Preliminary Hearing or else the court will order the dismissal of the action against you.

    • The Arraignment
    • This second arraignment is pretty much like your first arraignment. This time, however, the basis of arraignment will be The Informationprepared by the prosecution. In this second arraignment, you will again have to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.

    • The Discovery phase
    • During pretrial, the prosecutor and your defense lawyer show each other what they know through an exchange of information.

    • Pretrial Motions
    • After the arraignment and before the trial, your lawyer can file pretrial motions asking the court to dismiss the case and to exclude certain evidence (say, something the prosecution has on you that could prejudice the jury against you in trial), among others.

    • Change of Plea
    • Before the case goes to trial, you can change your plea from Not Guilty to Guilty or No Contest.

    • Out of Court Settlement
    • The judge will usually encourage the prosecutor and the defense to get together so the case may be settled out of court..

    You need a competent criminal defense lawyer on your side through the pretrial phase of the criminal defense process. Your lawyer will plan your strategy (for plea bargaining), file motions on your behalf, and help you settle the matter out of court if possible or if doing so is in your best interest. So call The Law Offices of Payman Zargari at (310) 601-7070 for exceptional criminal defense you can rely on.

  • The Trial

    If the criminal case against you does not settle out of court, then you will need to go to trial.

    You have two choices when it comes to trial:

    • Jury trial
    • Court trial

    Generally, a jury trial is a good choice because this gives you the opportunity to sway the jury to your side upon hearing the evidence you will present. However, there are cases when a jury trial is not recommended. Your lawyer should be able to steer you into choosing the option that would be most advantageous to you given the nature of the crime / crimes you're being accused of and the circumstances of your case.

    When will you be tried? It depends on the type of charges you're facing. See Section 1382 of the California Penal Code for specific trial deadlines

    • In the case of a Misdemeanor
      • If you are in custody at the time of arraignment, your trial date must be within 30 days of your arraignment or plea, whichever is later.
      • If you are out on bail at the time of arraignment, your trial date must be within 45 days of your arraignment or plea, whichever is later.
      • If you want to delay your trial, you can enter a general waiver or consent to an extension so your trial may be set beyond the 30- or 45-day deadline.
      • Note that waiving your right to a speedy trial can be detrimental if done without proper legal counsel. The importance of a competent criminal defense attorney in this case cannot be emphasized enough.

    • In the case of a Felony
      • The prosecution must bring you to trial within 60 days of your second Arraignment - the arraignment based on the prosecution's Information.
      • If you want to delay your trial, you can enter a general waiver or consent to an extension so your trial may be set beyond the 60-day deadline.
      • Note that waiving your right to a speedy trial can be detrimental if done without proper legal counsel. The importance of a competent criminal defense attorney in this case cannot be emphasized enough.

    What does a criminal trial entail? The following are the things that usually happen in a trial:

    • Voir Dire
    • Before the trial starts, the court invites potential jurors to the court. The prosecution and the defense ask jurors questions in an attempt to ascertain the jurors' fairness and objectivity. After the voir dire, both sides (together) will have chosen 12 jurors (or less, if both sides are in agreement and the case is a misdemeanor).

      Note that in the case of a court trial, Voir Dire is not a necessary step.

    • Opening Statements
    • The prosecution and the defense will have the right to make opening statements at the start of the trial.

    • Presentation of Evidence
    • The prosecution will present evidence as well testimonial accounts to try to prove that you are guilty of the crime of which they're accusing you. Your defense lawyer, on the other hand, will present evidence to prove the opposite.

      In truth, your defense lawyer need only prove that there's reasonable doubt that you committed the crime / crimes in question. You should be sure to a skilled criminal defense attorney so you can make full use of this advantage.

    • Closing Arguments
    • At this point, the prosecutor and your defense lawyer will summarize their points and make their final closing arguments in one last attempt to convince the jury or the judge about the merit of each of their positions.

    • The Verdict
    • The jury (in the case of a jury trial) or the judge (in the case of a court trial) will find you guilty or not guilty depending on the strengths of the arguments and evidence heard from the prosecution and the defense.

    Theoretically, a trial should favor you, the defendant. It is the prosecutor that has the burden of proof in a trial. The prosecution must prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that you are guilty of the crime / crimes they have accused you of committing, while you need only prove that there's indeed a reasonable doubt in your case - enough, in fact, to return a verdict of Not Guilty.

    Be that as it may, the actual outcome of your trial will depend largely on how good your criminal defense lawywer is at maintaining this defensive upper hand. So call The Law Offices of Payman Zargari at (310) 601-7070 for exceptional criminal defense you can rely on.

  • The Verdict

    The following are the possible outcomes after your trial:

    • Acquittal
    • If you are found Not Guilty of the criminal charges filed against you, then you will be acquitted and released. An aquittal means that the prosecution could not prove - beyond any reasonable doubt - that you were guilty of committing the crime you were charged with. This is not equivalent to a judgment of innocence and therefore does not come with the expungement of your arrest record.

      After an acquittal, you may no longer be charged for the same crime; that would be double jeopardy and the law protects you from that. You may also move to have your

    • Guilty as Charged
    • In a guilty verdict, a separate date will be set for sentencing.

Facing criminal charges?

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Law Offices of Payman Zargari, APLC

(310) 601-7070
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Mission Valley, CA 92120

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Attorney Payman Zargari will do everything in his power and extensive criminal defense repertoire to provide you with the best criminal defense possible.

Do not gamble with your life and future. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime or are facing criminal charges in the County of Los Angeles, make sure you obtain expert legal help.

Filing late, not complying with documentary requirements, missing a court date, saying and doing the wrong thing at a crucial moment - all these could lead to grievous legal consequences. Make sure to protect your legal rights by hiring a criminal defense expert that can lead and guide you through your criminal defense proceedings.

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