Defendants in Criminal Cases
Defendants in criminal cases are the individuals being prosecuted for a crime. A state, federal, or local prosecutor is on the other side of the case. The prosecutor has the burden of proving that the defendant committed a crime.
The burden of proof in criminal cases is higher than in civil cases. The prosecution must prove the criminal allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Each jury member must vote to convict the defendant for a guilty verdict.
How Do Criminal Cases Work in California?
The criminal process in California generally begins with an arrest. Law enforcement officers place the accused person in custody and take them to the police department. The defendant may be released or stay in jail, depending on the circumstances of the case.
After an arrest, the court holds an arraignment. The arraignment is the first time a defendant appears before a judge.
During the hearing, the judge informs the defendant of:
- The criminal charges filed against them
- The defendant’s constitutional rights
- The right to have the court appoint a criminal defense lawyer if the defendant cannot afford to hire a lawyer
The judge will ask the defendant how they respond to the criminal charges. The defendant may plead guilty. A guilty plea means the defendant admits to committing the crime and accepts the punishment by the court.
The defendant may also enter a plea of no contest. That means that the defendant does not admit they committed the crime. However, the defendant does not contest the charges and accepts the judge’s sentence.
A plea of not guilty means the defendant is saying they did not commit the alleged crime. At that time, the judge may order the defendant to be held in jail pending a trial. However, the judge could also release the defendant on their own recognizance (no bail) or set bail for a release.
After the arraignment, the criminal process depends on whether the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor crime or felony offense. In either case, the prosecution must turn over evidence it intends to submit at trial. A criminal defense lawyer will investigate the charges and gather evidence to help acquit the defendant.
Criminal cases might end in a plea agreement. A plea deal requires the defendant to plead guilty for some or all of the charges against them. In exchange, the prosecution may reduce the charges and/or the penalties.
If the criminal case goes to trial, each side will present evidence. Even though it is the prosecution’s burden to prove the legal elements for a conviction, you should never assume that you cannot be convicted of a crime if you are innocent.
The defense attorney will present a robust and compelling argument demonstrating why the defendant is not guilty of the crime. The lawyer will offer evidence and testimony in favor of their client. They’ll also aggressively cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution to challenge their testimony and evidence.
At the end of the trial, the jurors will deliberate. All jurors must agree to convict a defendant of criminal charges. If just one juror has reasonable doubt, the defendant cannot be found guilty.
If the jurors acquit (return a not guilty verdict), the defendant cannot be tried for the same crime again. The United States Constitution protects people from double jeopardy.
If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the court will schedule a sentencing hearing. The judge imposes penalties based on the criminal charges. Criminal penalties could include county jail or prison time, fines, probation, and other punishments.
What Should I Do if I Am Arrested in Los Angeles?
It can be frightening to be arrested by police officers. Therefore, it is essential to try to remain calm and think clearly.
Do not resist arrest because that could escalate the situation and result in additional criminal charges. Instead, answer the officer’s questions regarding your identity and address. Otherwise, exercise your right to remain silent.
Talking to the police officers or the prosecutor without a criminal defense lawyer present is not in your best interest. The statements you make could be used against you to obtain a conviction.
Remember, police officers can lie to you. Therefore, continue to remain silent even if they tell you they can help you or get you a reduced sentence. Do not fall for these tactics.
As soon as possible, contact a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. Do not discuss your case with anyone other than a lawyer.
If the alleged crime involves a victim, do not contact the victim or their family or friends. Doing so could result in a restraining order and make it more difficult to defend yourself.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer if You’ve Been Arrested For a Crime
Being arrested for a crime is a serious matter that can have long-lasting impacts on your life. A skilled legal team will work to clear you of criminal charges. Call an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.