Are You a Legal Professional?

State Laws

Your Oakland Criminal Case: The Basics

Last updated: October 28, 2013

You can't believe your sister got arrested again. First it was for being drunk at a Raiders game, now this. You're tired of bailing her out of jail and picking up the pieces of her life. She never learns. But, you continue to rescue her because you are family.

This time, it's more serious. She's been arrested for a major felony and being held at the Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility. Where do you even begin?

We can help. This article provides general information about what to expect in most cases if you or a loved one is arrested in "Oaktown."

Getting Arrested

The arrest is the start of your case in Alameda County. You'll have had contact with either the Oakland Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, or the Alameda County Sheriff's Department.

Contrary to what you've seen on television, the police must follow certain rules. If they neglect to follow these rules, it could jeopardize the state's case against you.

You should be read your Miranda rights. You've heard the words. "You have the right to remain silent." Then, the police have two options: take you to jail for booking or release you with a promise to appear at a later date.

Bail

There's two ways you can leave the jail-- you'll either be released on your own recognizance or have to post bail. Bail is money that you have to pay to the courts in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to get out.

First Court Appearance

Courtrooms are not fun places to be. You are likely scared, confused, or a little of both. Here's what to expect.

Your first court appearance is called an arraignment. It will happen at one of the Oakland Courts. You will appear briefly before a judge who will advise you of your constitutional rights, give you a copy of the charges (called a complaint) and ask if you wish to be referred to the public defender. Usually, at this hearing you'll enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. The court will also set future court dates for either a pretrial conference or preliminary hearing. 

Infractions in Superior Court

An infraction is a minor crime like illegal dumping into the Bay, fare evasion on AC Transit, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, or traffic violations, to name a few. A code enforcement officer or cop will issue you a ticket summoning you to appear in court. If convicted, you can't be sentenced to jail - a fine is the maximum punishment allowed. You may challenge your ticket or plead guilty to the charges. In some instances, you can simply pay the fine online or by mail.

Misdemeanors in Superior Court

Crimes classified as misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, but remember, a conviction or guilty plea can have repercussions beyond the courtroom. If you're a non-citizen, a misdemeanor can impact your immigration status.

Common Oakland misdemeanors include driving under the influence (DUI), petty theft, assault, minor drug possession, hit-and-run, some domestic violence, and resisting arrest.

The maximum penalty is up to one year in the county jail and a fine. The more "aggravated" the misdemeanor, the more likely you will receive a longer sentence. Examples of aggravated misdemeanors include second or third DUIs, domestic violence offenses, and repeat suspended license crimes.

Your case will be set for a pretrial conference, where parties can talk about the case and try to reach a resolution. If they can't, you will go to trial.

Every criminal defendant has the right to a trial by jury. Because every person accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent, the burden is on the district attorney to convince 12 jurors that you are guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Felony Cases

Unlike misdemeanors, felonies are serious crimes. They carry enormous penalties including years of prison time, large fines, and major repercussions for the rest of your life. Typical felonies include murder, robbery, sexual assault, or illicit drug sales.

Pretrial and Preliminary Hearing

After arraignment, you'll have a pretrial conference. This is an opportunity to see if the case can be settled without a trial.

If you enter into a plea bargain, you will be asked to give up your right to have a jury trial. You will then enter a plea of guilty or no contest to at least one of the charges. Your case will be referred to the probation department for a "presentence report," and continued at least 28 days for sentencing.

If you don't reach an agreement, you'll have a preliminary hearing. If your case goes to a preliminary hearing, a judge will hear the evidence and determine if there's probable cause to believe you have committed the crime. This is a very low hurdle to clear; if the judge believes you could have committed the crime, you will be "held to answer" for trial.

Within 15 days, the district attorney must file an information containing the felony charges they seek to prove at trial. You'll have another arraignment where the judge will ask you again to enter a plea and will set future court dates.

Disposition

The district attorney and defense attorney meet again in the judge's chambers to discuss your case and sometimes enter a plea bargain. If they can't come to a resolution, you will go to trial.

Trial

If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

You have the right to a jury trial where twelve people decide your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence. All twelve jurors must agree in order to convict or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, a "mistrial" will be declared and the case may be tried again before a different jury, settled by way of plea bargain or even dismissed.

Remember, you can't be compelled to testify. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.

Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. Anyone charged with an offense should at least consider consulting a skilled attorney.