How Criminal Cases Operate

In general, criminal cases have the following steps. Click on each step to learn more.
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The Arrest

When the police arrest someone (the defendant), they take him or her to jail.

Then, 1 of 3 things happens:
• The defendant is released if the prosecutor (usually the district attorney or the city attorney) decides not to file charges; or

• The defendant posts bail (also called a “bond”) or is released based on a promise to appear in court at a later date for arraignment. If either of these happen, the district attorney or police tell the defendant when to come to court for arraignment; or• The defendant stays in jail. Law enforcement officers transport the defendant to the court for arraignment.

How a Case Starts

1. Usually, the police cite or arrest someone and write a report. This report summarizes the events leading up to the arrest or citation and provides witnesses’ names and other relevant information. Defendants generally do NOT have a right to get a copy of the arrest report, but their lawyers do. The reason for this is to protect the identity of witnesses. This is another reason why it is important that a defendant charged with a misdemeanor or felony have a lawyer to represent him or her.
2. The prosecutor then decides whether to file charges and, if so, what charges to file. The prosecutor decides whether to charge the crime as a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor can file charges on all of the crimes for which the police arrested the defendant or can decide to file fewer charges or more charges than were included in the arrest report.
3. Because defendants have a right to a speedy trial, the prosecutor must generally file charges within 48 hours of the arrest when the defendant is in custody (in jail). Weekends, court holidays, and mandatory court closure days do not count against the 48 hours. Also, the deadline for arraignment depends on what time of the day you were arrested, so talk to a lawyer to find out exactly when the prosecutor’s deadline to file charges is.


Setting a Trial Date
For a jury trial for a misdemeanor case: The law says how soon a defendant charged with a misdemeanor must be brought to trial. (See section 1382 of the Penal Code).
If the defendant is in custody at the arraignment, the trial must start within 30 days of arraignment or plea, whichever is later.

If the defendant is not in custody at the arraignment, the trial must start within 45 days of arraignment or plea, whichever is later.
 
The defendant can “waive” (give up) the right to a speedy trial. This means the defendant agrees to have the trial after the required deadline (also known as “waiving time”). But even if the defendant waives time, the law says the trial must start within 10 days after the trial date is set. It is very important for defendants to get advice from an attorney before they waive time.
For a jury trial for a felony case: The law says how soon a defendant charged with a felony must be brought to trial. (See section 1382 of the Penal Code.)
The prosecutor must file the Information within 15 days of the date the defendant was “held to answer” at the preliminary hearing.
The trial must start within 60 days of the arraignment on the Information.

The defendant can “waive” (give up) the right to a speedy trial. This means he or she agrees to have the trial after the 60-day period (also known as “waiving time”). It is very important for defendants to get advice from an attorney before they “waive time.”
What Happens at Trial
·         Before the trial starts, the lawyers choose a jury. The process for choosing a jury is called “voir dire.” During this process the attorneys on both sides ask questions of the potential jurors to make sure the jurors will be fair and impartial.
·         Before the lawyers present evidence and witnesses, both sides have the right to give an opening statement about the case.
·         During the trial, lawyers present evidence through witnesses who testify about what they saw or know.
·         After all the evidence is presented, the lawyers give their closing arguments.
·         Finally, the jury decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The jury must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Verdict
If the jury finds the defendant not guilty, it is called an “acquittal” and the defendant will be released. The defendant can never be tried again for the same crime. This is called “double jeopardy.” A finding of not guilty is not the same as a finding of innocence. It simply means that the jury was not convinced that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The arrest will still show on the defendant’s record, along with the acquittal. If a defendant was wrongfully arrested and charged, and he or she wants to get the arrest removed from her or his record, a hearing to determine the factual innocence of the defendant must be held in front of a judge. It is often much harder to prove factual innocence, than to raise a reasonable doubt about guilt.
If the defendant is found guilty, the defendant will be sentenced.
After the Trial — The Appeal Process
If you are found guilty after a trial, you have the right to an appeal process. There are many reasons for an appeal of a criminal case, but appeals are also very difficult, so talk to a lawyer to make sure you know what is best for you.

There are also important deadlines that apply to appeals. If you miss the deadline, your appeal will most likely be dismissed.
·         For misdemeanor cases, you must file a Notice of Appeal (Misdemeanor) (Form CR-132) within 30 days of the date of the judgment or order.
·         For felony cases, you must file a Notice of Appeal — Felony (Defendant) (Form CR-120) within 60 days of the date of the judgment or order.
Keep in mind that the appeal is not a new trial. The appellate court can review the evidence (testimony and exhibits) presented at your trial to see if the trial court made a legal error in how the testimony or exhibits were received. The appellate court does NOT decide the facts of the case as the judge or jury in the trial court does.
You can only appeal if:
1. You say there was not enough evidence in your trial to justify the verdict or judgment; and/or
2. You say there were mistakes of law during or before the trial that hurt your case.
If you say there was not enough evidence in your trial to justify the judgment, the appellate court will review the record and decide if there was substantial evidence to support the judgment. If you say mistakes of law were made, the appellate court will hold a hearing to listen to both parties. Then they will decide if there was any irregularity or mistake that prejudiced (hurt) your case.

In addition to appealing after a trial, there are other situations when you can file an appeal, like appealing the validity of a plea or probation violations. Talk to your lawyer to learn more about your options to appeal.
• If you are appealing a misdemeanor conviction, you can appeal to the appellate division of the superior court. Read the Information on Appeal Procedures for Misdemeanors (Form CR-131-INFO) if you want to appeal a guilty conviction in a misdemeanor case.
• If you are appealing a felony conviction, you can appeal to the Court of Appeal in your appellate district (or the California Supreme Court if it is a death penalty case).
• If you are appealing an infraction case, read the Information on Appeal Procedures for Infractions (Form CR-141-INFO).
For More Information About All Types of Criminal Cases
To learn more about the rules in criminal cases, read the California Rules o

How a Case Starts

1. Usually, the police cite or arrest someone and write a report. This report summarizes the events leading up to the arrest or citation and provides witnesses’ names and other relevant information. Defendants generally do NOT have a right to get a copy of the arrest report, but their lawyers do. The reason for this is to protect the identity of witnesses. This is another reason why it is important that a defendant charged with a misdemeanor or felony have a lawyer to represent him or her.
2. The prosecutor then decides whether to file charges and, if so, what charges to file. The prosecutor decides whether to charge the crime as a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor can file charges on all of the crimes for which the police arrested the defendant or can decide to file fewer charges or more charges than were included in the arrest report.
3. Because defendants have a right to a speedy trial, the prosecutor must generally file charges within 48 hours of the arrest when the defendant is in custody (in jail). Weekends, court holidays, and mandatory court closure days do not count against the 48 hours. Also, the deadline for arraignment depends on what time of the day you were arrested, so talk to a lawyer to find out exactly when the prosecutor’s deadline to file charges is.


Setting a Trial Date
For a jury trial for a misdemeanor case: The law says how soon a defendant charged with a misdemeanor must be brought to trial. (See section 1382 of the Penal Code).
If the defendant is in custody at the arraignment, the trial must start within 30 days of arraignment or plea, whichever is later.

If the defendant is not in custody at the arraignment, the trial must start within 45 days of arraignment or plea, whichever is later.
 
The defendant can “waive” (give up) the right to a speedy trial. This means the defendant agrees to have the trial after the required deadline (also known as “waiving time”). But even if the defendant waives time, the law says the trial must start within 10 days after the trial date is set. It is very important for defendants to get advice from an attorney before they waive time.
For a jury trial for a felony case: The law says how soon a defendant charged with a felony must be brought to trial. (See section 1382 of the Penal Code.)
The prosecutor must file the Information within 15 days of the date the defendant was “held to answer” at the preliminary hearing.
The trial must start within 60 days of the arraignment on the Information.

The defendant can “waive” (give up) the right to a speedy trial. This means he or she agrees to have the trial after the 60-day period (also known as “waiving time”). It is very important for defendants to get advice from an attorney before they “waive time.”
What Happens at Trial
·         Before the trial starts, the lawyers choose a jury. The process for choosing a jury is called “voir dire.” During this process the attorneys on both sides ask questions of the potential jurors to make sure the jurors will be fair and impartial.
·         Before the lawyers present evidence and witnesses, both sides have the right to give an opening statement about the case.
·         During the trial, lawyers present evidence through witnesses who testify about what they saw or know.
·         After all the evidence is presented, the lawyers give their closing arguments.
·         Finally, the jury decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The jury must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Verdict
If the jury finds the defendant not guilty, it is called an “acquittal” and the defendant will be released. The defendant can never be tried again for the same crime. This is called “double jeopardy.” A finding of not guilty is not the same as a finding of innocence. It simply means that the jury was not convinced that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The arrest will still show on the defendant’s record, along with the acquittal. If a defendant was wrongfully arrested and charged, and he or she wants to get the arrest removed from her or his record, a hearing to determine the factual innocence of the defendant must be held in front of a judge. It is often much harder to prove factual innocence, than to raise a reasonable doubt about guilt.
If the defendant is found guilty, the defendant will be sentenced.
After the Trial — The Appeal Process
If you are found guilty after a trial, you have the right to an appeal process. There are many reasons for an appeal of a criminal case, but appeals are also very difficult, so talk to a lawyer to make sure you know what is best for you.

There are also important deadlines that apply to appeals. If you miss the deadline, your appeal will most likely be dismissed.
·         For misdemeanor cases, you must file a Notice of Appeal (Misdemeanor) (Form CR-132) within 30 days of the date of the judgment or order.
·         For felony cases, you must file a Notice of Appeal — Felony (Defendant) (Form CR-120) within 60 days of the date of the judgment or order.
Keep in mind that the appeal is not a new trial. The appellate court can review the evidence (testimony and exhibits) presented at your trial to see if the trial court made a legal error in how the testimony or exhibits were received. The appellate court does NOT decide the facts of the case as the judge or jury in the trial court does.
You can only appeal if:
1. You say there was not enough evidence in your trial to justify the verdict or judgment; and/or
2. You say there were mistakes of law during or before the trial that hurt your case.
If you say there was not enough evidence in your trial to justify the judgment, the appellate court will review the record and decide if there was substantial evidence to support the judgment. If you say mistakes of law were made, the appellate court will hold a hearing to listen to both parties. Then they will decide if there was any irregularity or mistake that prejudiced (hurt) your case.

In addition to appealing after a trial, there are other situations when you can file an appeal, like appealing the validity of a plea or probation violations. Talk to your lawyer to learn more about your options to appeal.
• If you are appealing a misdemeanor conviction, you can appeal to the appellate division of the superior court. Read the Information on Appeal Procedures for Misdemeanors (Form CR-131-INFO) if you want to appeal a guilty conviction in a misdemeanor case.
• If you are appealing a felony conviction, you can appeal to the Court of Appeal in your appellate district (or the California Supreme Court if it is a death penalty case).
• If you are appealing an infraction case, read the Information on Appeal Procedures for Infractions (Form CR-141-INFO).
For More Information About All Types of Criminal Cases
To learn more about the rules in criminal cases, read the California Rules o

How a Case Starts

1. Usually, the police cite or arrest someone and write a report. This report summarizes the events leading up to the arrest or citation and provides witnesses’ names and other relevant information. Defendants generally do NOT have a right to get a copy of the arrest report, but their lawyers do. The reason for this is to protect the identity of witnesses. This is another reason why it is important that a defendant charged with a misdemeanor or felony have a lawyer to represent him or her.
2. The prosecutor then decides whether to file charges and, if so, what charges to file. The prosecutor decides whether to charge the crime as a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor can file charges on all of the crimes for which the police arrested the defendant or can decide to file fewer charges or more charges than were included in the arrest report.
3. Because defendants have a right to a speedy trial, the prosecutor must generally file charges within 48 hours of the arrest when the defendant is in custody (in jail). Weekends, court holidays, and mandatory court closure days do not count against the 48 hours. Also, the deadline for arraignment depends on what time of the day you were arrested, so talk to a lawyer to find out exactly when the prosecutor’s deadline to file charges is.


Setting a Trial Date
For a jury trial for a misdemeanor case: The law says how soon a defendant charged with a misdemeanor must be brought to trial. (See section 1382 of the Penal Code).
If the defendant is in custody at the arraignment, the trial must start within 30 days of arraignment or plea, whichever is later.

If the defendant is not in custody at the arraignment, the trial must start within 45 days of arraignment or plea, whichever is later.
 
The defendant can “waive” (give up) the right to a speedy trial. This means the defendant agrees to have the trial after the required deadline (also known as “waiving time”). But even if the defendant waives time, the law says the trial must start within 10 days after the trial date is set. It is very important for defendants to get advice from an attorney before they waive time.
For a jury trial for a felony case: The law says how soon a defendant charged with a felony must be brought to trial. (See section 1382 of the Penal Code.)
The prosecutor must file the Information within 15 days of the date the defendant was “held to answer” at the preliminary hearing.
The trial must start within 60 days of the arraignment on the Information.

The defendant can “waive” (give up) the right to a speedy trial. This means he or she agrees to have the trial after the 60-day period (also known as “waiving time”). It is very important for defendants to get advice from an attorney before they “waive time.”
What Happens at Trial
·         Before the trial starts, the lawyers choose a jury. The process for choosing a jury is called “voir dire.” During this process the attorneys on both sides ask questions of the potential jurors to make sure the jurors will be fair and impartial.
·         Before the lawyers present evidence and witnesses, both sides have the right to give an opening statement about the case.
·         During the trial, lawyers present evidence through witnesses who testify about what they saw or know.
·         After all the evidence is presented, the lawyers give their closing arguments.
·         Finally, the jury decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The jury must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Verdict
If the jury finds the defendant not guilty, it is called an “acquittal” and the defendant will be released. The defendant can never be tried again for the same crime. This is called “double jeopardy.” A finding of not guilty is not the same as a finding of innocence. It simply means that the jury was not convinced that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The arrest will still show on the defendant’s record, along with the acquittal. If a defendant was wrongfully arrested and charged, and he or she wants to get the arrest removed from her or his record, a hearing to determine the factual innocence of the defendant must be held in front of a judge. It is often much harder to prove factual innocence, than to raise a reasonable doubt about guilt.
If the defendant is found guilty, the defendant will be sentenced.
After the Trial — The Appeal Process
If you are found guilty after a trial, you have the right to an appeal process. There are many reasons for an appeal of a criminal case, but appeals are also very difficult, so talk to a lawyer to make sure you know what is best for you.

There are also important deadlines that apply to appeals. If you miss the deadline, your appeal will most likely be dismissed.
·         For misdemeanor cases, you must file a Notice of Appeal (Misdemeanor) (Form CR-132) within 30 days of the date of the judgment or order.
·         For felony cases, you must file a Notice of Appeal — Felony (Defendant) (Form CR-120) within 60 days of the date of the judgment or order.
Keep in mind that the appeal is not a new trial. The appellate court can review the evidence (testimony and exhibits) presented at your trial to see if the trial court made a legal error in how the testimony or exhibits were received. The appellate court does NOT decide the facts of the case as the judge or jury in the trial court does.
You can only appeal if:
1. You say there was not enough evidence in your trial to justify the verdict or judgment; and/or
2. You say there were mistakes of law during or before the trial that hurt your case.
If you say there was not enough evidence in your trial to justify the judgment, the appellate court will review the record and decide if there was substantial evidence to support the judgment. If you say mistakes of law were made, the appellate court will hold a hearing to listen to both parties. Then they will decide if there was any irregularity or mistake that prejudiced (hurt) your case.

In addition to appealing after a trial, there are other situations when you can file an appeal, like appealing the validity of a plea or probation violations. Talk to your lawyer to learn more about your options to appeal.
• If you are appealing a misdemeanor conviction, you can appeal to the appellate division of the superior court. Read the Information on Appeal Procedures for Misdemeanors (Form CR-131-INFO) if you want to appeal a guilty conviction in a misdemeanor case.
• If you are appealing a felony conviction, you can appeal to the Court of Appeal in your appellate district (or the California Supreme Court if it is a death penalty case).
• If you are appealing an infraction case, read the Information on Appeal Procedures for Infractions (Form CR-141-INFO).
For More Information About All Types of Criminal Cases
To learn more about the rules in criminal cases, read the California Rules o