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The California Criminal Court Process

You came to the right place whether you have been charged with a crime or are simply looking for information regarding the criminal court process in California.

As seasoned criminal defense attorneys who have handled some of the most daunting cases imaginable, we are intimately familiar with the California criminal justice system. This inside knowledge helps us shepherd you through the criminal court process with flexibility, a high degree of competence, and, most importantly, an orientation towards it - securing the best possible result for you.

Our California criminal defense law firm explains the following in this article:

  • Initial stages of the California criminal court process
  • What happens during pre-trial
  • California criminal court jury trials
  • Proceedings that happened after the issuance of a plea of guilty, no contest or the rendering of a guilty verdict

We invite you to contact us at Second Chances Law Group if, after you have read this article, you would like more information.

1. Initial Stages of the California Criminal Court Process

After the police have arrested you in California, the arraignment will be your first formal court appearance.


You will have your first opportunity to enter a plea in your case at your arraignment. The following are the three most common pleas that occur at this proceeding:

  • No contest (known formally as nolo contender);
  • Not guilty; or
  • Guilty

You will proceed directly to the sentencing hearing upon your entering of a plea of “no contest” or “guilty.”

The judge will address the issue of bail if you have entered a plea of “not guilty”. By the way, this plea is much more common at this stage of a California criminal court case.

Bail and Bail Bonds in California

Bail is money that gets posted with the court to make sure that you will be appearing in all of your court appearances. Local county bail schedules generally determine the bail amount that is set. Having said that, California bail laws give you the chance to ask the judge to “deviate” from the scheduled bail.

Bail Hearings in California

You are allowed to present mitigating factors to the judge at your bail hearing in support of your request to be released on your own recognizance (“OR”) or to at least have your bail reduced.

Release on Own Recognizance or “OR”

You may be released by the judge without having to post bail, based solely on your promise to appear in all of your future court appearances. The judge will allow an OR release provided that:

  • you have not been charged with an offense punishable by death;
  • your release will not compromise public safety; AND
  • there is reasonable assurance that you will keep appearing in court in the future.[1]

2. What Happens During Pre-Trial

The pre-trial phase of a case includes all proceedings and formalities before the trial phase of the case. This includes:

  • defendant may still change his/her plea up to this point
  • discovery (exchange of information between prosecution and defense)
  • filing of pre-trial motions
  • possible negotiations with the judge and lawyers from both prosecution and defense

In felony cases, a “preliminary hearing” is conducted during the pre-trial phase. Otherwise known as a “probable cause hearing”, this hearing is specifically conducted so a judge may decide if there is enough reason to believe that you probably committed the crime charged against you and for you to appear for a trial.

Motion to Set Aside Information – Penal Code § 995

In felony cases, the defense lawyer may request the judge to dismiss one or more charges against you. This request is formally known as a “motion to set aside information.” This is done after the preliminary hearing/probable cause hearing is conducted but before the trial phase of the case.

A motion to set aside information can be made to the trial judge to review the preliminary hearing judge’s decision to set the case for trial. If the reviewing judge believes that there is not enough reason to believe that you probably committed the crime, the reviewing judge will grant the motion to set aside information.

Pitchless Motion

This is a request made to the court to inspect the personnel file of the police or other law enforcement officer in your case about any prior complaints about misconduct. Your defense attorney may file this motion if they suspect that the officer acted improperly in your case. Any complainants in a prior complaint against the said law enforcement officer may be called as a witness to put into question the credibility of the officer.

Motion to Suppress Evidence – Penal Code § 1538.5

This motion is filed by your defense attorney if there is cause to believe that your Fourth Amendment Right against unreasonable searches and seizures has been violated. This motion is filed to exclude any evidence that might have been obtained illegally.

3. California Criminal Court Jury Trials

If your case proceeds to trial, have the right to have a jury decide your guilt or innocence. Before the trial proper, you have to decide whether to have a jury trial or a court trial (also known as "bench trial"). A jury trial is not available for infractions.

A court trial or bench trial is when the judge acts as both judge and jury. While a jury trial involves 12 members of the community selected to hear the evidence presented against you and ultimately decide your guilt or innocence. If a jury trial is selected, the following is the sequence of events:

  • jury selection
  • opening statements by prosecution and defense
  • presentation of evidence
  • closing arguments
  • jury deliberations
  • verdict
  • sentencing if found guilty

4. Proceedings That Happen After the Issuance of a Plea of Guilty, No Contest, or the Rendering of a Guilty Verdict

Motion for New Trial

This motion is possible after a verdict has been rendered (but before sentencing) and there is the presence of any of the following grounds:

  • jury misconduct
  • prosecutorial misconduct
  • error of law
  • insufficient evidence
  • trial record or transcript was destroyed
  • newly discovered evidence

Sentencing Hearing

After your conviction, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled where the prosecution and the defense will present each of their sides as to what they feel should be the appropriate sentence in your case.

The defense will present all mitigating circumstances to lessen the sentence while the prosecution will present all aggravating circumstances to enforce the highest possible penalty for your crime.

This is why it is all-important to have a seasoned criminal defense attorney representing you so as to mitigate the possible sentence that may be imposed in your case.


If you are found guilty after a trial, you have the right to appeal your case. An appeal is not a new trial but a review by the appellate court of the evidence presented at your trial to see if the trial court made a legal error in how the testimony or exhibits were received. there are other possible reasons for an appeal so it is best that you speak to an experienced defense attorney about the possibility of appealing your case.

No Judgment, Only Professionalism

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is all-important to hire an experienced, aggressive, and seasoned private defense lawyer to fight your case. We always make our clients feel right at home and we encourage you to take comfort in the fact that you have a dedicated advocate on your side at Second Chances Law Group, APC. Our highly-experienced lawyers at Second Chances Law Group, APC will help ensure that your Constitutional rights are protected. Each of our clients will receive personalized attention, complete discretion, and trained staff working to provide the best legal assistance available.

Our only job is to defend you with the maximum competence, diligence, and zealousness. Do not hesitate to call us at (626) 827-7222 for the representation you need.

[1] California Penal Code § 1270

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