I was arrested for a felony… now what?
A felony arrest can be a life changing experience fraught with anxiety and fear. Most of those feelings are because you don’t know what is going to happen. What can I expect when I go to court? What are my rights? How long will this take? Will I be able to get out of jail?
It’s normal to have questions when you or a loved one is in trouble. Here we try and demystify the felony court proceedings and explain what will happen in a felony court procedure should you be charged with a felony offense.
When there is probable cause to believe you committed a felony offense, a peace officer may arrest you. An arrest consists of a police officer taking you into custody and booking you into the county jail. You will be: photographed (mug shot), fingerprinted, and assigned a booking number. The arresting agency will notate the felony charges on your booking sheet. These charges will determine your initial bail under the California Uniform Bail Schedule. You will appear before the court for a hearing within 48 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays.
The arraignment is the first appearance in court. The purpose of the arraignment is to learn the formal charges against you and your constitutional rights, and for you to enter a plea to the accusations. In a felony case, it is always advisable to enter a Not Guilty plea so you can pursue any legal defense you may have. Your lawyer will also be allowed to address you custody status with the court, i.e. whether you remain in jail while you defend your case.
The bail review hearing is a statutory right of all criminal defendants. In this hearing the court will give you an opportunity to argue for lower bail or own recognizance release, aka “OR.” OR means the court lets you out of jail on your promise to appear without paying money for bail or posting a bail bond. You can present supporting evidence like letters, employment records, military records, health records, character references and any other evidence that shows you are not a risk to the public or a flight risk.
The Preliminary Hearing
The Preliminary Hearing is a pre-trial hearing where the prosecution must show the court that there is probable cause to believe you committed the felony charges levied against you. The judge will hear witness testimony and receive evidence from the prosecution and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to move forward with your case.
During your felony case, both the defense counsel and the prosecution are allowed to make formal motions requesting the court to take action. Initiating a motion requires the filing of a written plea outlining the relief sought. Most motions require a separate hearing for the judge to consider the request, and some motions call for witness testimony and the presentation of evidence. Typical motions in criminal cases include a motion to suppress evidence at trial, compel discovery (evidence), dismiss the case, release evidence for retesting or exclude testimony or other evidence.
The Readiness Conference
A readiness conference is a final chance for the judge to check in with both sides before the commencement of trial. The judge will hold a chambers conference with only the attorneys. Each team presents the case’s posture for settlement to determine whether the court can reach a settlement (or plea bargain) between the prosecution and defense. The judge will also discuss practical details such as the proper exchange of discovery, the length of the expected trial, and whether both sides will be ready to proceed on the day of trial.
The Jury Trial
If you do not settle your case, by way of plea or dismissal, you will have to stand trial. A jury trial requires 12 members of the community to hear the evidence against you and determine whether or not you are Guilty or Not Guilty. You will have a right to cross-examine all the witnesses testifying against you and to present any of your evidence in your defense. The jury verdict must be unanimous. If the jury finds that you are Not Guilty of all the charges and allegations, the case is over. Otherwise, the case will continue.
Sentencing and Punishment
If you are found guilty of any of the charges, by way of a jury verdict or guilty plea, the judge will sentence you to determine the appropriate punishment. For felonies, the punishment ranges from probation to Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole and even death. The judge would have broad discretion at sentencing unless the prosecution and defense agreed on a punishment sentence as part of a plea bargain.
Appeals and Writs
After sentencing, you will have an opportunity to appeal the decision to the court of appeals. An appeal does not mean you get to retry the case. The court merely looks at the record of the trial proceedings to determine if there was any reversible error that rendered the proceedings unlawful. If the court denies your appeal, you can apply for review at the California Supreme Court. Once all appeals are exhausted, you may have the ability to file a federal writ. Of course, extraordinary writs are always available at any stage of the proceedings if sufficient grounds arise. But they are not part of a typical case.