The Felony Criminal Process

California has a specific process for a felony criminal case, the first step is the arraignment.  At the arraignment the Court may allow motions to be filed and a preliminary hearing will be set within ten (10) Court days of the arraignment, unless a waiver of the time limit is taken.

After arraignment, the prosecution will customarily issue subpoenas for witnesses and victims to appear on the preliminary hearing date.  The prosecution issues subpoenas to a witness whenever the prosecution will rely on a witness for testimony at the preliminary hearing whether the witness is a civilian or a police officer.

The next step is a pre-preliminary hearing conference.  At this stage the criminal defense attorney and prosecutor discuss the case in chambers with the judge.  The defense may ask for information  and evidence from the prosecution, called
discovery.  The attorneys and Court also try to negotiate a resolution acceptable to both sides.  Defendants do not participate in the pre-preliminary hearing conference although your personal appearance in Court is required.  This stage of the process gives the defense attorney all the evidence the prosecution intends to use in the case, time to consider and explore the evidence, and an opportunity to make efforts at resolving the case.  

The third and most important step in the felony criminal process is the preliminary hearing. If a case cannot be resolved prior to the hearing, another attempt will be
made on the day of the hearing itself.  If the case cannot be resolved the defense will announce “ready” for  preliminary hearing. Depending on prosecution readiness and the availability of a courtroom, the preliminary hearing may be heard sometime that day, or may “trail” until it can be heard.

At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must simply present evidence that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime or crimes charged.  California law permits the prosecutor to meet this burden by calling only one law enforcement officer who investigated the case.  A
defendant’s criminal defense attorney is allowed to cross examine all witnesses in order to establish weaknesses in the state’s case. The prosecution does not have to prove the case beyond a reasonabledoubt at the preliminary hearing(that standard only applies at trial).  Therefore, it is usually not difficult for the prosecution to “win” the preliminary
hearing. However, if the case is weak a Judge may throw out the charges or reduce the charges to a misdemeanor if appropriate.

If the Court finds there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the charged offense, the defendant is “bound over” for trial and the case is transferred to the Trial Court (sometimes referred to as Superior Court).  In
Superior Court, the defendant is once again arraigned , the case is set for trial within 60 days as a matter of right.