Pretrial Process Under California Criminal Law
If you were arrested for criminal offense in Los Angeles County, the pretrial process will proceed when you enter a not guilty plea. The pretrial is a court appearance that allows for motions such as to suppress evidence under California Penal Code Section 1538.5 or a motion to set aside the complaint under California Penal Code Section 995.
This criminal case process is also where there is an exchange of evidence and witness information between the Los Angeles County prosecutor and your defense attorney. It’s also the time where plea bargains and negotiations are made before a criminal trial.
The pretrial is where many cases will end, but you must work with your lawyer. It’s where both sides will discuss the strength and weaknesses of you case, your criminal history, and the potential for a plea bargain. Since most criminal cases are resolved during the pretrial process, your criminal defense lawyer must have a clear understanding on how to effectively use this stage of your case to your advantage.
Our defense lawyers are former prosecutors and have vast experience in the dealing with cases in the pretrial process. We know how to make sure we are receiving the information that will help favorably resolve your case.
Depending on the specific details and circumstances of the criminal case, there could be just one pretrial conference or several conferences before a case goes will proceed to trial. Every defendant is entitled to a speedy trial within a set time, but in some cases, it might be to their advantage to waive a speedy trial.
Additionally, the discovery process can frequently take some time and it might also be an advantage for the defendant to have several pretrial conferences to make sure all the discovery material has been received.
To give readers useful information about the pretrial process, our California criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.
Discovery in the Pretrial Process
The discovery phase is a two-way procedure in the pretrial process. The terms “discovery” simply means the process of obtaining evidence and refers to the rules on how case evidence is given to the other side. California’s discovery rules equally apply to both the prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer. Both sides must provide their evidence they intend to use at trial.
The Los Angeles County prosecutor is legally required to hand over evidence and other information about the case, along with any defendant favorable exculpatory evidence. The prosecutor also has to inform the defense lawyer of any felony convictions of their witnesses that can impeach their credibility, and they also must give the defense any relevant written or recorded statements.
It’s actually an informal process, but the court can intervene if there are any complications. Your defense lawyer will typically submit an informal discovery request to the prosecutor and has the option to file a formal discovery request with the criminal court to hold a hearing in cases where the prosecutor fails to comply.
During the hearing, if the judge decides the prosecutor did indeed violate their discovery obligation, they could impose sanctions, including preventing the prosecutor to use the evidence at trial, or the judge could even dismiss the underlying criminal charges.
Types of Pretrial Motions
Certain motions are held at pretrial hearings. One of the most important reasons for California’s pretrial process is to resolve evidentiary issues before going to trial. This typically occurs by using “motions,” which in simple terms, is a formal request to the judge to make a decision on specific issues.
These motions can be in writing or made orally, but will depend on the type of motion. The most common type of motions at the pretrial process include the following:
California Penal Code Section 1538.5 – Motion to Suppress
This common motion is commonly known as a motion to suppress evidence due to an illegal search and seizure. Your defense lawyer will typically file a PC 1538.5 motion for a variety of reasons, including a reasonable belief the evidence against you was obtained illegally.
For example, a motion to suppress evidence will allow a defendant to challenge the validity of their stop, search, seizure or arrest. If the judge decides law enforcement failed to comply with search and seizure laws, the evidence that was seized will be suppressed and excluded, meaning the prosecution will typically drop the case because they can’t move forward without that evidence.
California Penal Code Section 995 – Motion to Dismiss
Another common motion in the pretrial process in Los Angeles County is known as a “motion to dismiss”. Your attorney will typically file a PC 995 motion if they believe one of more of the defendant’s criminal charges were not filed legally.
For example, your lawyer might have a reasonable belief the evidence that was used at your preliminary hearing failed to show sufficient probable cause for the charges filed by the prosecutor. In legal terms, “probable cause” is a state of facts that would cause someone of ordinary care to believe in a strong suspicion the defendant is guilty of a crime, If the judge decides to grant your lawyers PC 995 motion, they will dismiss some or all the charges.
A Pitchess motion is a request for information from a police officer’s personnel file. Your defense lawyer will typically file this type of motion if they have reason to believe you are a victim of police misconduct. Common examples include racial profiling or excessive force.
Your lawyer is seeking information on any disciplinary action that might have been taken against the police officer and whether they have prior incidents of misconduct. During a Pitchess motion, the judge on the case will review the police records in their chamber before determining what information, if any, can be provided to your criminal defense attorney. If the police officer has a history of misconduct or complaints, this information can be used by your attorney to attack their credibility.
A Serna motion is commonly known as a “speedy trial motion” and is a motion to dismiss charges based on a speedy trial violation, meaning you were denied this constitutional right. In other words, your lawyer is arguing the delay was unconstitutional. This type of motion is typically filed by a lawyer in cases where there is an excessive delay between your arrest and trial. They are also used when there is a long delay between filing a complaint against you and the trail.
For example, perhaps the defendant was never arraigned on an old offense and their case was in warrant statues for several years. It should be noted this type of motion has its best chance of success in cases where the prosecutor caused the long delay due to their negligence or in cases where the delay impacted your lawyer’s ability to present an effective defense.
Plea Bargaining in the Pretrial Process
It’s important to note the vast majority of criminal cases in Los Angeles County never go to trial. Rather, they are resolved through plea bargaining during a pretrial conference. After a defendant retains a lawyer, negotiations with the prosecutor soon follow at the arraignment, which is the first court appearance.
This is where the attorney has the initial opportunity to discuss the facts and evidence in the case with the prosecutor. After the arraignment, anytime your lawyer and prosecutor come into contact, they will discuss plea bargains, which a critical process.
For example, in order for the prosecutor to secure a conviction on the case, they might allow the defend to plea “no contest” to a reduced plea for a lesser sentence than the original charge. Likewise, on the other side of bargaining, the defendant’s lawyer could present exculpatory evidence to the prosecutor showing major weaknesses in their case. Then, the prosecutor might be willing to reduce the charges or to resolve the case that is favorable to the defendant.
Contact Eisner Gorin LLP to Review Your Case
If you have been charged with a crime, it’s critical to the outcome that you consult with our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers immediately. We are former prosecutors and highly skilled at defending our clients at the pretrial process.
Since the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved at the pretrial process, you need a team of experienced defense lawyers who have a good relationship with the with the local prosecutors and judges. Since we have spent decades establishing credibility in LA County local courts, you will normally have a much greater chance at a favorable plea bargain.
We have a track record of providing aggressive defense for our clients to obtain the best possible outcome on their case. We need to first closely examine the details of your case to start planning a strategy. Contact our law firm at 877-781-1570.
Eisner Gorin LLP
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Los Angeles, CA 90067