A felony is any crime that carries a minimum sentence of one year in custody. Some common examples of felonies include: grand theft, armed robbery, and murder. The most severe of all charges, felonies carry significant consequences including, but not limited to, incarceration, probation and parole, substantial fines, loss of constitutional rights such as right to possess weapons and right to vote, and restrictions on employment. Consulting with a criminal defense attorney in the early stages of investigation or upon arrest can help the accused to avoid these potentially severe punishments.
Unlike misdemeanor charges, felony charges require the defendant’s appearance at all court hearings. If the defendant fails to appear, the court will issue a warrant for their arrest. In addition, the defendant will forfeit any bond that they posted.
A felony charge may require two arraignments: the initial arraignment in the inferior court and, if the defendant is bound over following a preliminary hearing, a subsequent arraignment in superior court.
If the defendant is in custody, they will have access to bail, which is set forth in the county bail schedule. The bail for felony charges is generally greater than that for misdemeanor charges.
The pretrial conference occurs after the arraignment and provides the defense attorney an opportunity to negotiate a plea offer or convince the prosecutor to drop the charges completely. For felony charges, the pretrial conference carries many titles: Felony Settlement Conference (FSC), Disposition and Resetting Hearing (D & R), or Trial Readiness Conference (TRC). During the pretrial conference, the defense lawyer may discuss the weaknesses and flaws in the prosecution’s case. In addition, an experience attorney will introduce mitigating factors in the hope that doing so will prompt the prosecutor to make a more lenient offer such as less punishment or a lesser charge. Mitigating factors may include the defendant’s providing restitution to the victim, attending counseling sessions, or obtaining awards or accolades for their work.
SPEEDY TRIAL RIGHTS
The defendant has a right to trial within 60 days of the arraignment in superior court. Consulting with an attorney is the most effective way a defendant can ensure that their right to a speedy trial is honored.
PRELIMINARY HEARING AND GRAND JURY
California law permits two avenues for felony prosecutions:
An arraignment in the inferior court, granting the defendant the right to a preliminary hearing prior to trial. At the arraignment, the prosecutor serves the criminal complaint, which outlines the charges, lists the nature of the crimes, and identifies the approximate dates of the offense(s); or a grand jury indictment. If the defendant is indicted by a grant jury, they are not granted a preliminary hearing in the inferior court, rather only receives a hearing in the superior court. Grand jury indictments are extremely rare in the California state court system.
Under California law, the defendant must undergo a probable cause hearing before standing trial on felony charges. During this preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will subpoena witnesses to testify about the incident. The prosecutor must establish reasonable cause to believe the crime was in fact committed and the defendant committed the crime. The prosecutor must meet this evidentiary burden to further the case to trial.
If the court determines that the prosecutor failed to meet this burden, the court can dismiss the case and discharge the defendant. If the court does not dismiss the case completely, it can reduce the charge, for example from a felony to a misdemeanor. In addition, the court has the power to raise or lower the defendant’s bail. Preliminary hearings can have significant impacts on the future direction of the case, thus consulting with an attorney is critical to an effective defense in the preliminary hearing stage.
If the defendant is indicted by a grand jury, they do not have a right to a preliminary hearing. Rather, the case will go to a grand jury, comprised of nineteen citizens. In the grand jury proceedings, the prosecutor presents the case with witness testimony and other evidence. The prosecutor is not permitted to utilize any evidence that would be inadmissible over objection at trial. However, if evidence is presented that would be inadmissible over objection at trial, the grand jury verdict is still valid as long as there is sufficient, competent evidence to support the indictment.
After all the evidence is presented, the jury engages in a secret deliberation. If twelve or more jurors conclude that sufficient evidence exists to establish probable cause that the accused committed the offense, the jury will indict. Probable cause is established if the evidence would lead a person of ordinary caution or prudence to believe and conscientiously entertain a strong suspicion of the guilt of the accused.
The grand jury proceedings are unique in that the defendant is not granted the opportunity to testify. In addition, the defendant’s attorney is not permitted to attend; however, access to a transcript of the grand jury proceedings is available. A grand jury can convene even if the accused is not yet arrested. In such a situation, if an indictment is handed down, the court will issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest.
THE VALUE OF GOOD REPRESENTATION
A conviction for a misdemeanor or felony becomes part of your criminal record, which can have a serious impact on all aspects of your life. For example, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence if you are convicted of a crime in a new case. Not to mention, a criminal record, even a misdemeanor conviction, can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment.
Furthermore, a convicted felon loses the right to vote, hold public office, serve as a juror, and carry or own firearms. In certain circumstances, a felony conviction also can result in loss of a professional license. Felons who face criminal charges later will likely find that the new charges are more serious because of their prior conviction.
Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.
The attorney at the Law Office of Brett Parker Davison has extensive knowledge of the system and can begin building a strategy for your defense immediately. We highly encourage you to contact us to schedule a free consultation of your case at (909) 480-8094!