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How Criminal Cases Work Arraignment and Plea Bargaining Basics
If you are charged with a crime in California, your first court appearance will be an arraignment. During the arraignment, the court will present the charges against you and explain your rights, and you will respond to the charges by entering a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest (also known as “nolo contendere”). Whether you are facing a felony or misdemeanor charge in San Diego, you need the guidance of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights, explain your legal options, and competently represent you in court. Call Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers today at (619) 430-2355 to set up a free legal consultation with our San Diego defense team.
If you are charged with a crime in California, your first court appearance will be an arraignment.
During the arraignment, the court will present the charges against you and explain your rights, and you will respond to the charges by entering a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
The vast majority of criminal cases in California are resolved not by trial but through plea bargaining.
If you accept a plea bargain, you will be required to plead guilty to one or more charges in return for a reduced charge or lesser sentence.
What is an Arraignment?
An arraignment is the first step in the California criminal court process, following the arrest and filing of criminal charges. It is a formal court proceeding; if you fail to appear, the court will issue a bench warrant for your arrest and you could face additional criminal charges. During your arraignment, the court will formally charge you with a crime and inform you of your rights and you will enter an initial plea in your case. The following are the most common types of pleas in a California criminal case:
Guilty: Pleading guilty means admitting that you committed the alleged crime. If you plead guilty, the judge will find you guilty and enter a conviction in the court record.
Not Guilty: If you plead not guilty, you are stating that you did not commit the alleged crime. In some cases, a not guilty plea may lead to a plea bargain, or it could mean your case goes to trial, where the prosecution will be forced to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
No Contest (nolo contendere): A plea of no contest means you do not disagree with the charge. Pleading guilty or no contest has essentially the same result, except a no contest plea cannot be used against you in a civil lawsuit.
What Happens After the Arraignment?
If you are in custody at the time of the arraignment, once you enter your plea, one of three things will happen, depending on the circumstances of your case: the judge will release you with orders to return to court on a specified date; the judge will set bail and send you back to jail until bail is posted; or the judge will refuse to set bail and send you back to jail pending the outcome of your case. According to California Penal Code §1275(a)(1), the court’s main considerations in setting, reducing, or denying bail are: “the protection of the public, the seriousness of the offense charged, the previous criminal record of the defendant, and the probability of his or her appearing at trial or at a hearing of the case.”
When to Accept a Plea Bargain
If you are arrested and charged with a crime in San Diego, you may be expecting your case to go to trial. However, the majority of criminal cases in California are resolved through plea bargaining. A plea bargain is a legal agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more charges in return for certain concessions from the prosecutor. Some examples of possible concessions include dismissing one or more charges, reducing a charge to a less serious offense, or making a lighter sentence recommendation to the court.
Pros and Cons of a Plea Bargain
Plea bargaining can be an effective tool for resolving a criminal case quickly and efficiently. When faced with a criminal charge, a plea bargain can help you avoid a long, drawn-out trial, saving you both time and expense. It can also result in a less serious charge, a reduced sentence, or no sentence at all. Finally, a plea bargain gives both the prosecution and defense some sense of control over the outcome of the case, compared to a trial, which can be unpredictable. That being said, accepting a plea bargain is not always in the defendant’s best interest. By doing so, you are effectively admitting guilt, and that can come with serious collateral consequences you must carefully consider. Only by consulting a skilled criminal defense attorney can you know whether to accept a plea bargain or take your case to trial.
How Common is Plea Bargaining?
The criminal justice system in the United States is notoriously encumbered. Trials can take weeks or even months to conclude, and with the courts facing significant backlogs of criminal cases, judges and prosecutors are encouraged to move cases through the system as quickly as they can. As such, plea bargaining has become very common in criminal cases in California and across the U.S. In fact, while there are no exact statistics documenting the proportion of criminal cases that are resolved through plea bargaining, reports estimate that more than 90% of federal and state court cases end in a plea bargain. That means less than 10% of criminal cases go to trial.
Free San Diego Criminal Defense Consultation
We cannot stress enough how important it is to have a knowledgeable legal representative on your side when facing a criminal charge in San Diego. The criminal court process can be brutal for criminal defendants and it all begins with entering a plea at arraignment. Our attorneys at Sevens Legal know how devastating criminal charges can be, and we are prepared to help you fight those charges. Call our firm today to schedule a free legal consultation with our criminal defense team.
How to Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys
From the initial arrest, to the filing of criminal charges, to the arraignment, to the presentation of a plea deal, every stage of the criminal court process can have an impact on your future and freedom. Our criminal defense attorneys have dedicated their careers to fighting for the rights of those accused of criminal offenses in California, and we will do everything in our power to help you successfully navigate the criminal justice system. You can reach us today by calling (619) 430-2355.