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Criminal Case Procedure

This outline is designed to help my clients and potential clients gain a better understanding of the process involved in a criminal case.   It is only a general outline.   A helpful piece of information to all who are unfamiliar with the court process is that every stage of the proceedings occurring at and after arraignment can be continued by the lawyers and may be unsettling for the accused.   It is important to expect what may seem like needless delays occasionally in order that your attorney can best represent you and so there are no surprises along the way.   Communication between client and counsel is vital and will help alleviate unnecessary worry during the pendency of the case.   Let your attorney educate you as to what is going on so you can help in your own defense.

Types of Crimes

Crimes are classified as felonies and misdemeanors.   Infractions are civil offenses not considered crimes, like traffic violations.   A felony is any crime punishable by prison.   A misdemeanor is a crime punishable with up to a year in jail.  

The Role of Attorneys and Judges

The District Attorney’s Office (DA) is responsible for filing criminal cases.   The DA is the prosecutor that represents the People of the State of California and decides what charges to file against you, if any, in a formal document known as a complaint or information.   The DA is present at all court appearances once the case filed until the case is resolved and makes offers and recommendations to Defense counsel and the Judge for resolution of cases.   In some hearings, the DA will waive their appearance, typically for infractions, and misdemeanor arraignments.   In North Court, the City of Anaheim has its own team of prosecutors who are City Attorneys but act functionally the same as a DA.

The Defense Attorney represents the accused or the Defendant in a criminal case.   We call them clients.   In our office, we go to great lengths to ensure that our clients understand the nature of the charges against them, their rights, the strength of evidence in the case, our defenses, strategy, and plan of attack to help get the best possible outcome.   You have the absolute right to have your attorney present once you are charged with a crime.   We will stand with you at every court appearance and speak for you.   Before charges are filed, we can do research and investigate the case to potentially avoid being charged altogether.   Don’t hesitate to call our office for a free consultation to allow us to get started on defending you immediately.

The Judge (also referred to as “the court”) gets involved in criminal cases at every court hearing.   Once the case is on the calendar, the attorneys may want to discuss the case with the Judge “off the record” in the Judge’s chambers.   If a resolution is being discussed, the Judge has independent discretion to offer a resolution of the case without the approval of the DA.   If the court offer is accepted, the court must take a plea to all the charges brought against the Defendant.   The court cannot change the specific crimes charged, only the punishment for pleading to all of them.   The DA is in charge of the complaint and can agree to dismiss charges and will usually make an offer to resolve the case.   In this instance, the court doesn’t need to be involved in discussion between the attorneys.

Warrants and Investigation

A warrant is an order from the court permitting law enforcement to go out and look for people or evidence.   These kinds of warrants are usually requested by law enforcement with the approval of the DA.   A warrant to get someone is an arrest warrant, a warrant to search a place is a search warrant.   Not to be confused with a bench warrant, which is a warrant issued by the judge usually for failing to appear at a court hearing.   The result of a warrant being issued is that the person being requested can be arrested and brought to the local jail.   We provide 24 hour release assistance if you are arrested.   If you suspect or get notice that a warrant exists for you, call us so we can begin getting the warrant recalled so you don’t get arrested and suffer the inevitable consequences of an unexpected incarceration.


If a crime is observed or investigated by police, or a warrant is issued and executed, or police are requested by a citizen to arrest, the criminal case begins to take shape at this stage.   An arrest is an important legal activity, a seizure of your person, that gives rise to many defenses in a criminal case when it is not effected properly.   If your rights are violated during or because of an arrest, your defense attorney must know.   Once arrested, the individual can start the process of getting out.   This can occur via posting a bond, or getting released on his own recognizance (O.R.) with a written promise to appear in court on the day scheduled for arraignment.


Bail is a kind of insurance that is designed to ensure the defendant’s appearance in court at the appointed time.   If a bond is posted for bail, and the defendant fails to show up for court, the bond is exonerated, and the co-signor is responsible to produce the defendant, or pay the entire bail amount.   Bail agents use bounty hunters to track down fugitives and return them to court.  

Bail is set by the arresting officer or his supervisor, the watch commander, jail release officers, or the Judge.   In each county, a bail schedule gives a guideline for bail amounts depending on the charges that the individual was booked on.   To post bail, one can use cash or a bail bondsman.   We have access 24 hours a day to local bondsmen that are willing to post your bond as soon as possible to get your loved one out of jail.   In Orange County, we can contact the jail to discuss reducing the bail amount after booking occurs before the suspect is sent to court.   Once the Judge sets bail, a motion in court must be made to argue for a reduction in the bail amount.   Once bail is posted and the defendant released, the bond remains in effect until it is exonerated which occurs when the case is over, if there are no failures to appear.

Decision to File Charges

After law enforcement arrest the suspect, they write their reports and send the reports to the District Attorney for a charging decision.   Police will recommend the D.A file certain charges based on the information obtained by the Police.   The D.A. is the entity solely responsible for filing charges.   The D.A. has independent discretion to bring the recommended charges, other charges, or none at all.   Occasionally, the D.A. may need to return the file back to the Police to clarify a certain point that is necessary to the case.   There is a common misconception that citizens or victims can “press charges” or “drop the charges”.   The D.A. is able to take into consideration whether their interest or lack of interest would affect the case, but the prosecutor has the ultimate decision and can file charges even if there is no interest to the specific victim or citizen because there may be other reasons to prosecute.  


Once arrested, if the suspect remains in custody, the law requires that the individual be charged within 72 hours of the arrest.   If the third day is a weekend or holiday, the rules allow the arraignment to take place the next business day.   In Orange County, an arraignment occurring for an individual in custody, will occur in the afternoon, on the afternoon calendar.   If no charges are filed, the individual must be released.   The D.A. can still file the case, however, but the Orange County D.A. tries very hard to file something if there is some evidence against the suspect before the 72 hour period elapses.  

At the arraignment, the charges are read and the individual can now be considered a defendant, with the important rights provided by the State and Federal Constitution and State Law regarding communication, legal representation, and speedy trial rights.   A preliminary copy of the reports in the D.A.’s file are also provided to defense counsel at the arraignment.   We recommend that you contact and retain Mr. Grupenhagen well before the arraignment date to prepare bail reduction arguments, trial setting issues, and motions that can be prepared for arraignment.   At the arraignment, we want to have you as a client, not just a defendant.

Pre-trial Conferences and Plea Bargaining

Plea bargaining is merely a device that is designed to allow discussion among the attorneys and the judge, if necessary prior to trial.   The negotiations and case preparation can help to narrow the issues that are presented at trial, or provide a resolution of the case before trial.   Pre-trial conferences are the court hearings in which these discussions take place and pre-trial motions to exclude evidence can be brought by the defense.   Cases can be resolved at any stage of the proceedings, even during the middle of trial.   Generally, about 3 to 5 percent of cases do not get resolved and a full blown trial is conducted before a resolution is obtained.   Either by way of conviction or acquittal.

Preliminary Hearing

Only in a felony case is there the added procedure called a preliminary hearing.   At the preliminary hearing, the D.A. must prove that the crimes were committed and that the Defendant committed them.   The burden required to prove these facts is low and is not hard to provide at a preliminary hearing.   In fact, the D.A. is encouraged to provide as little evidence as possible just to get the case past the preliminary hearing.   The law allows for police with specific training and experience to speak on behalf of every witness that has personal knowledge of the facts of the case.   These witnesses may be necessary for trial, but not at the preliminary hearing.   The prelim is an important stage of the proceedings, however, because it allows the defense to test the efficacy of the People’s case and reveal weaknesses in the case overlooked by the D.A.   The court can and will refuse to allow the case to continue if there is not enough evidence presented to convince the judge that there is a reasonable belief or suspicion that the crimes were committed by the defendant.   If the D.A. is successful in convincing the judge there enough evidence to hold the defendant to answer to the charges, the case will proceed to an arraignment in Superior Court.   These hearing occur only in Department 5 at the Central Justice Center.   From there, the case can be resolved or is assigned to a trial court for further proceedings.


The trial is the readily recognized process where a jury of 12 registered voters from the community listen to the evidence and decide what happened.   If the jury is convinced unanimously as the guilt or innocence of the defendant, the case will end.   If the jury cannot decide unanimously, the case will revert back to the pre-trail stage and must be tried again within 60 days if a resolution cannot be reached.   A trial without a jury is known as a court trial where the judge determines the facts of the case.   A jury trial is not allowed for infraction offenses, juvenile cases, and some civil actions.   Mr. Grupenhagen is a big proponent of the jury trial right in that it provides the greatest protection for criminal defendants to have a fair hearing in front of citizens that aren’t cynical and jaded by overexposure to the criminal law industry.   In addition, criminal clients enjoy the protection of the highest burden of proof required in the law, that is unanimous proof beyond a reasonable doubt!


Once a person is convicted by way of either a plea of guilty, or no contest, or a verdict by a jury after trial, the case proceeds to sentencing.   This is the time at which the attorneys provide information to the Judge to help the court decide what punishment is appropriate in the particular case.   The law allows for the court to consider input from various sources to help make decision about punishment.   Victims, probation, family, friends, sentencing experts, the D.A., and defense counsel can be heard at sentencing.   In addition, post-trial motions may be brought at sentencing to send the case back to trial or to reduce or eliminate charges or “conduct enhancements” against the defendant.  

Appeals and Post Conviction Motions

It’s not over ‘til it’s over, and then it probably isn’t really over.   The criminal law allows for several legal methods to look back in the past and fix errors or problems with any of the decisions made by the judges in the case, or to go back and resurrect the case and bring it back to the punishment stage, the trial stage or earlier.   A criminal appeal following a conviction must be filed within a short period of time or the right to appeal is lost.   Delay is fatal to the right to appeal, because an individual convicted of a crime has less rights that a defendant whose case hasn’t been resolved yet.   Appeals are costly and time-consuming affairs that require a high level of expertise and are statistically unsuccessful.   Consult with our office if you want to discuss the possibility of an appeal you may be considering.

Unlike an appeal, post conviction motions are commonly brought and granted when an experienced criminal attorney is managing them.   Knowledge of local courts and procedure is paramount in a motion to modify a sentence or a probation term.   If the terms of punishment are unbearable, or impossible to perform, call our office right away so we can discuss strategies for alternatives or requests to modify your sentence.


We hope this outline helps you to understand what one can expect when facing criminal charges and accusations.   This outline applies generically also to federal cases, but there are substantial differences in state courts and federal courts.   Mr. Grupenhagen
is licensed to practice in federal court as well.   Thank you for your attention, please contact us by e-mail if this information was helpful to you.

  Copyright © 2005 Daniel C. Grupenhagen. Web Directory