Overview of the System:
Being arrested can be one of the most terrifying, confusing, and stressful events of a person’s life. If you or a loved one is arrested it is important to know that there are certain constitutional protections available to you. Understanding a few key processes about the criminal justice system can help alleviate some of the stresses involved in being arrested.
Our Nation’s Constitution, along with California’s Constitution, are the bedrock for the protections afforded to us when we must deal with the criminal justice system. Specifically, the 4th (protections from unreasonable search and seizures), 5th (where our Miranda Rights evolved from), 6th (our rights to a speedy trial), 8th (protections from cruel and unusual punishments), and 14th (Equal Protection under the law for all) amendments to the U.S. Constitution are the cornerstones of our protection from unfair, unscrupulous, and unbalanced law enforcement tactics.
California recognizes three types of criminal cases: 1. Infractions, 2. Misdemeanors, and 3. Felonies. Infractions are considered minor violations of the law, which most of have experience in the form of traffic violations. Generally, infractions involve a fine as the form of punishment and do not include jail time. Misdemeanors are crimes whose violation of can result in punishment of up to 1 year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Examples of s misdemeanors include petty theft, most forms of vandalism, and most DUI’s. Felonies involve violation of the most serious crimes and include punishment of jail or prison time of 1 year or more. Felonies include murder and robbery.
The remainder of this article will focus on arrests leading to felony charges as they are commonly associated with a defendant remaining in custody, however, it is recommended that even with infractions that a qualified lawyer should be consulted.
If you or someone you know is arrested it is important that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible. The Constitution requires that a defendant be provided certain protections and processes within specific time frames. A lawyer familiar with these time frames will be able to explain, guide, and work to provide you as much legal protection as possible under the law. Being arrested and dealing with law enforcement is extremely stressful and can place a person in a position to make decisions that are not in your best interests.
California Penal Code section 825 requires that within 48 hours after your arrest the law enforcement agency prosecuting the case must decide whether to actually file charges. When you are brought before a judge for the first time it is referred to as your arraignment. At this hearing the judge will inform you of the charges being brought against you, what your constitutional rights are, especially your Sixth Amendment right to counsel even if you cannot afford the cost of one, and the judge will ask you to enter your plea whether it be not guilty, guilty, or no contest. Finally, the judge will decide to either release you on your own recognizance, set bail, or refuse to set bail. All of these processes can be extremely daunting to understand and handle without a lawyer.
Following your first arraignment, California Penal Code section 859b requires that the court hold a preliminary hearing within 10 court days. This is where the judge will hear evidence presented by the prosecutor and any defenses that your attorney may raise in response. If the judge feels there is enough evidence that a crime has been committed and you are the responsible party then you will be “held to answer” and the prosecutor will file what is referred to as the criminal information. You will again be required to enter a plea. A not guilty pleas results in your trial being set.
What has Changed Since the Coronavirus?
Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, our communities are experiencing unprecedented times. The effects of this pandemic are exceedingly broad, and our criminal justice system is not immune from being subjected to disruption and change. With respect to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, there are some important changes to the timing of when law enforcement must act.
Two major changes due to the pandemic involve the time required to bring a defendant before a judge and the time required to hold a defendant’s preliminary hearing. If you are arrested the usual 48 hour time frame pursuant to Penal Code section 825 has been extended to no more than 7 days. Additionally, the time that an arrestee must be given their preliminary hearing has been extended from 10 days to no more than 30 days.
What does this mean for you or a loved one if they are arrested? It means that the time spent incarcerated can and likely will be extended. If having a lawyer was crucial to a person’s navigation of our criminal justice system prior to this pandemic, then it could not be more important now to retain the right lawyer. The attorneys at The Sands Law Group have the experience needed to help get you through the stresses and anxiety of dealing with the criminal justice system as well as the compassion to give the honest legal advice needed during times like these.
– Tom Reynolds, ESQ