Introduction to Felony Charges in California
A felony is obviously the most serious type of criminal charge. As such, these cases are handled differently by the courts than misdemeanor charges.
A felony can be charged by way of a complaint, or by a criminal indictment.
Cases Charged by a Complaint
Most cases are charged through the use of a complaint. The first court date is your arraignment. This is typically about one week after your arrest and is the date on which you are expected to plead guilty or not guilty. In almost all cases we will plead you not guilty. By doing so two dates are set in the future, the early disposition conference (“EDC”) and a preliminary hearing.
The EDC is a settlement conference that gives us the opportunity to negotiate the disposition of your case with the judge and the prosecutor. If we determine that it is in your best interest to settle the case, and if there is no way to get your case dismissed, in appropriate cases we can get the judge to agree to reduce your case to a misdemeanor, agree to probation, or agree to a disposition that is the most beneficial to you.
If the case cannot be settled, or if there are issues that must be litgated, the case next goes to a preliminary hearing. This is a “mini-trial” before the judge in which the prosecutor must call witnesses into order to prove to the judge that there is probable cause to believe that you commited the offense.
If the judge finds that the people have carried their burden of proof you will be “held to answer” on the complaint. In such cases a new arraignment date is set.
This new arraignment is when you are arraigned on what is now called the “Information”. This is essentially the complaint after preliminary hearing. It may include the same or different charges than were originally filed in the complaint.
Again, we almost always enter another not guilty plea, after which the case is set for a pretrial conference and then trial. If the case cannot then be dismissed or settled at the pretrial conference, your case will be set to go to trial before a jury from the community. A trial can take anywhere from 2-3 days to as much as a month or more, depending on the complexity of your case.
Cases Charged Through an Indictment
An indictment is obtained by the District Attorney in a closed hearing before the Grand Jury. You have no right to be heard at this stage. If the grand jury returns the indictment we will show up at your arraignment on the indictment, enter a not guilty plea and set two future court dates.
The first is a “pretrial conference”. This is much like a settlement conference. It gives your attorney the opportunity to negotiate the disposition of the case with the judge and the prosecutor. Often, in appropriate cases, if there is no way to get your case dismissed, we can get the judge to agree to reduce your case to a misdemeanor, agree to probation, or agreement to a disposition that is the most beneficial to you.
On the other hand, if we feel that the prosecutor cannot prove the case against you, then you should not agree to settle the case and should instead proceed to trial.
The trial date is when your case gets set to go to trial before a jury from the community. A trial can take anywhere from 2-3 days to as much as a month or more, depended on the complexity of your case.
What to Do Next
I understand felony procedures very well. I appear on felony cases every week in Southern California. Most importantly, I know the local judges. Each judge is different. Some are more lenient on certain crimes than others. My experience in this regard can help you since I have the procedural knowledge to get your case in front of the judge I feel is most well-suited to deal with your case fairly.