What happens when someone is charged with a misdemeanor?
A misdemeanor is defined as a crime that is punishable by fine and/or
imprisonment in a County jail for one year or less. As in most criminal
cases, a misdemeanor prosecution starts with an arrest. However, unlike
of a felony arrest, most persons charged with misdemeanors are detained
only for a short time before they are released by police after promising
to appear at their next court date by signing a citation that is known
as a "promise to appear." Many misdemeanors still require
a bail bond inorder to be released from custody. In Pasadena, bail
bonds are available 24 hours 7 days a week.
The police reports alleging illegal acts are then presented to the
District Attorney or to a City Prosecutor who decides what charges,
if any, should be filed. For Los Angeles Police Department arrests,
if the District Attorney determines that a felony filing is not appropriate,
the charges may be referred to the Los Angeles City Attorney, who prosecutes
misdemeanors within the City of Los Angeles. On the other hand, the
Los Angeles Police Department may take a case allegedly involving a
misdemeanor directly to the City Attorney for possible filing of charges.
Occasionally, instead of filing misdemeanor charges, the prosecutor
may choose to file a complaint alleging an infraction. Individuals
who are accused of infractions cannot be sentenced to jail, nor are
they entitled to the appointment of counsel at public expense.
Any person who has been arrested and then released from custody and
given a court date and time must appear in court on that date, at that
specific time! Failure to appear will result in the issuance of a warrant
and possible arrest. Unfortunately, you cannot assume that the court
will understand that you had to work that day, you overslept, or your
child was sick. If you are represented by the Public Defender's Office
and have failed to appear in court when required, it is always better
to contact a Deputy Public Defender at the courthouse and arrange to
surrender, rather than to wait until the police find and arrest you.
You have a much better chance of walking out of the courtroom if you
first notify your Deputy Public Defender who will arrange for you to
come ninto court voluntarily.
It is not uncommon for a person to be arrested on misdemeanor charges,
then released, only to appear in court and discover that no charges
have been filed. Occasionally, this is because the charges have been
rejected by the prosecution; other times, the decision as to where
the District Attorney wants to file charges might have been delayed.
If this happens to you, you may want to speak with a Deputy Public
Defender in the courthouse who may be able to find out whether or not
any charges against you are likely to be filed and if so, when. In
this way, a voluntary surrender by you at the courthouse could be arranged
by your attorney if, and when, charges are filed in the future. This
simple procedure will make it less likely that you will be placed in
custody for the arraignment when official charges are actually filed.
Once a case has been filed, the first step in the criminal process
is arraignment. This is usually the time the defendant first appears
in court, is informed of the charges, and enters a plea. The Deputy
Public Defender who handles misdemeanor arraignments in that particular
court will discuss the case with you, and a plea will be entered. The
usual pleas are "not guilty," "guilty," or "no
contest." If you are in custody at arraignment on a misdemeanor
charge, your lawyer may make a motion to dismiss based on failure of
the police reports to establish that a crime has been committed. If
you have been charged for something you simply did not do -- or the
charges are far more serious than the offense for which you are actually
responsible -- or your attorney feels there is insufficient evidence
to convict you, he or she might advise you to take the case to trial.
In misdemeanor cases that are not likely to go to trial, it is not
unusual for your attorney to settle the case on your behalf and with
your consent, either at arraignment, or at a pretrial hearing which
is usually held a couple of weeks later. Some misdemeanor cases settle
for a fine and probation, without any jail time. However, some misdemeanor
charges can carry a sentence of as much as one year in the county jail
(a few have a mandatory minimum jail sentence) as the possible punishment.
Only by knowing the particular facts of your case, your prior criminal
record, if any, and your current situation, is it possible to accurately
predict how your case will settle.
A misdemeanor case that is not going to be resolved with a plea must
generally go to trial within 30 days if the defendant was in custody
at the arraignment -- or within 45 days if the defendant is out of
custody. Cases are often continued to allow defense attorneys to gather
the necessary evidence and interview any possible witnesses. Before
trial, the defense attorney may make various motions, including a motion
to suppress unlawfully obtained evidence by the police and motions
for the prosecutor or the police to disclose evidence which might help
the defense. "
An adult criminal defendant has the right to a trial by a jury. This
is where 12 jurors, who are called "the finders of fact," listen
to all the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense
and decide what is proved and what is not. The judge's role in a jury
trial is to make sure that both the prosecution and the defense adhere
to all the rules of evidence when presenting their case to the jury.
At trial, the prosecution must try to prove the client's guilt beyond
a reasonable doubt. All 12 jurors must agree in order to either convict
or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, a "mistrial" will be
declared by the court, and the case may be tried again before a different
jury, it may be dismissed, or a case settlement may be agreed upon
by the prosecution and the defense.
A defendant can also decide to have a judge hear the case, instead
of a jury; this is called a "court trial." For this to happen,
the prosecution must also agree. In a court trial, the prosecution
still has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, but this time,
the judge is the "finder of fact" and must decide whether
or not the defendant is guilty, while also making certain that both
attorneys are abiding by all the rules of evidence.
If a defendant is found guilty, the judge will then impose a sentence.
The possible range of sentence, which is set by various laws, may range
from no jail and probation, to confinement in the county jail for up
to one year.
Defendants who have been convicted after a trial have the right to appeal
their conviction. This process is started by the trial attorney who,
upon request of the client, will file a notice of appeal in the trial
court within 30 days of the imposition of sentence. A lawyer who specializes
in appeals will then be appointed by the Appellate Division of the Superior
Court. It is important to keep that court informed of your current address.
It is also important that you read and respond to all communications
you receive from the other court. If there is anything you do not understand,
call your attorney.