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Your Orange County Criminal Case: The Basics

Last updated: October 11, 2013

It's always an epic night at Johnny's Saloon. Between the whiskey shots, nonstop games of pool, and a scary Oompa Loompa doll hiding out in a corner, you've never left here dissatisfied. Until now. You got into an alcohol-infused fight with another guy over the punk music playing on the jukebox. Stupid, you know, but the cops were called.

So, now you've been arrested in the OC. You are likely scared and confused. Many questions are going through your mind. What is going to happen to me? Am I going to go to jail? Do I need a bail bonds? Don't I have "the right to remain silent?" Where is the courthouse? What is an arraignment?

Since arrests occur in so many different situations, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen. This article provides general information about what to expect from the criminal justice system in most cases if you are arrested in Orange County.

The Arrest

You've seen it on television one too many times. Your criminal case may not follow a Hollywood script (even though you're not too far from Tinseltown), but it will usually follow a basic outline. You'll have contact with the police: the Orange County Sheriff, the California Highway Patrol, or some other local police department..

If you're arrested, you should be read your Miranda rights. You know 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. If you're taken into custody, you'll likely become a guest at the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana or you may remain at one of the local jails such as the Newport Beach, Irvine or Huntington Beach police departments.

If you want to go home, you'll either be released on your own recognizance or you'll 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.

Arraignment

Next, you'll be arraigned at one of the Orange County Courts. The judge will officially read the charges against you and may readjust your bail. You'll also enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you will have the option of hiring a lawyer, representing yourself, or asking for a public defender.

What happens next depends on whether you are accused of committing an infraction, felony, or misdemeanor.

Infraction

Don't expect handcuffs or drug-sniffing K-9s, typically. An infraction is a minor offense and includes such violations as traffic, wildlife, boating, state park recreation and or having an open beer container at Huntington Beach. The officer will issue you a citation stating you'll have to appear in court. If convicted, you can't be sentenced to jail – a fine of less than $250 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.

Misdemeanor Cases

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, but take note, a conviction or guilty plea can have consequences on your career, your educational opportunities, and your freedom. If you are a non-citizen, a misdemeanor can impact your immigration status.

Common California misdemeanors include minor drug possession, petty theft, assault and/or battery, resisting arrest, certain traffic offenses, threats, some domestic violence, and driving under the influence (DUI) offenses.

If you go to trial, twelve randomly selected members of the community will decide your guilt or innocence. If the jury finds you not guilty, the case ends and you may go free. If you're convicted, the judge will impose a sentence in your case ranging from a small fine, to probation, to an active jail sentence.

The maximum punishment you'll receive if convicted is up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of up to $1000. Some crimes carry additional penalties such mandatory counseling or substance abuse classes.

Felony Cases

Felonies are serious crimes that carry serious penalties including years of prison time, large fines, and major repercussions for your life outside of prison. Typical felonies include robbery, murder, rape, or possession of illegal drugs for sale.

Pretrial

The next stage in a felony is the pretrial conference. The prosecutor and defense attorney meet in the judge's chambers to discuss your case and sometimes enter a plea bargain. Pretrial gives your attorney an opportunity to gather information from the prosecution, explore that evidence, and possibly resolve your case without a trial.

Preliminary Hearing

If your case doesn't resolve, you'll have a preliminary hearing. A judge will hear the evidence and determine if there's probable cause to believe you have committed the offense. If the judge "holds you to answer" for the charges, she'll set a trial date and you'll be arraigned again.

Trial

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

You automatically have the right to a jury trial where twelve randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence. 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. If the State does not have sufficient evidence to prove that you committed an offense, you may be entitled to a dismissal or a reduction in your charge. Similarly, if the State violated your civil rights during the investigation or prosecution of your case, a judge may suppress certain evidence, meaning the State can't use the evidence against you at trial. Anyone charged with an offense should at least consider consulting a skilled attorney.