Your Sacramento Criminal Case: The Basics

It's summertime in Gold Country. The temperature is rising. The beer is flowing and you're under the stars at Raley Field. It's your first country concert watching your favorite band, Sugarland. It was a memorable evening until some country jezebel from Stockton wearing daisy dukes and half a T-shirt decided to hit on your man. You did what any respectable gal from the Hills, (El Dorado, that is) would do in the same scenario. You threw your wine cooler in her face and then kicked her in the shin. Oops, now you've gone and done it. Sacramento Police are on the way. That "country jezebel" wants to place you under a citizen's arrest.

You are likely scared and confused. Many questions are going through your mind. What's going to happen to me? Do I need a bail bonds? Don't I have the right to remain silent? Let's explore the law and some basics in a typical Sacramento criminal case.

Time Limits

The prosecutor has a limited amount of time to charge you with a criminal offense. It's known as a "statute of limitations."

In California, misdemeanors have a one-year statute of limitations and felonies range between three and six years. There isn't a time limit for murder.

For example, let's say five years ago you stole some candy from a store at in Old Town Sacramento (misdemeanor theft). You can't be charged with a theft crime today. Why? The time limit for a misdemeanor is only one year.

Miranda Rights and Bail

If you've been arrested, the police should read you your Miranda rights. You know You've heard in movies and on television. "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 to jail and booked, you'll likely become a guest at the Main Jail.

Most people prefer not stay here very long. 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.

First Appearance

Your first appearance will be at your arraignment at one of the Sacramento area courthouses. 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 criminal lawyer, representing yourself, or asking for a Sacramento public defender.

California Misdemeanors

A misdemeanor is less serious than a felony, but don't take these charges lightly. 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 petty theft, assault and/or battery, resisting arrest, certain traffic offenses, some domestic violence, and driving under the influence (DUI) offenses.

After your arraignment, you'll typically have a pretrial conference. The next stage in The prosecutor and your 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.

If you go to trial, twelve jurors will decide you're innocent or guilty. If the jury finds you not guilty, the case ends and you can 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.

California Felonies

A felony is a serious crimes that can carry a serious penalty including years of prison time, large fines, and major repercussions for your life outside of prison. Some felonies are punishable by death. Typical felonies include robbery, murder, rape, or possession of illegal drugs for sale.

Felonies can be broken down into four stages -- arraignment, pretrial, preliminary hearing, and trial. We already talked about the first two. Let's focus on the preliminary hearing.

Preliminary Hearing
If your case doesn't resolve at a pretrial conference, you'll have a preliminary hearing. A single judge will hear the evidence against you. The prosecution must simply present evidence that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime or crimes charged. If the judge "holds you to answer" for the charges, she'll set a trial date and you'll be arraigned again.

Defendants rarely testify at a preliminary hearing. The prosecutor doesn't have to prove her case beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, it is usually not difficult for the prosecution to "win" the preliminary hearing.

Trial

If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Remember, you can't be compelled to testify. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.

Final Word

Whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges in Sacramento, you should consider contacting an attorney to discuss your options. Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights.

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